By Capt. Matthew PargettOctober 4, 2018
High in the Andes mountains of Chile rests Rio Blanco, the home of 'La Escuela de Montaña.' This course, the Chilean Army Mountain Warfare School is a tough mountain warfare course that challenges students to four months of high-alpine training across two seasons. With training that encompasses both winter and summer mountain combat operations, students learn to read the harsh mountain terrain through a variety of conditions while learning the basics of surviving at high altitudes.
While American Soldiers have attended the abbreviated several-week mountaineering course in Chile in the past, the four-month course has been largely unattended.
In fitting fashion as the only division with a 'mountain' tab, the 10th Mountain Division (LI) has begun a partnership with the Chilean Army Mountain Warfare School to enroll American Soldiers into each future four-month course.
In June 2018, Staff Sgt. Norberto Rodriguez of the Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 10th Mountain Division (LI) began training with international students under the cadre of the Chilean Mountain Warfare School. He regularly shares his experiences and lessons learned with his leadership at Fort Drum, New York, as the course allows, and offered his thoughts on the training.
"I'm the only American here," said Rodriguez when interviewed over the phone. "It's a great experience because everyone has their own unique input, and their own perspective on things."
Working with international students, Rodriguez has come to understand a new culture and learned that even at the tactical level some practices between nations are different.
In addition to being the only American, Rodriguez has an added challenge that most of his fellow candidates do not.
"Zero English. None. If you don't know Spanish you won't last here. Knowing Spanish is a must. I don't see someone coming here without being able to speak Spanish."
The Spanish only rule is a course policy that is enforced by the Chilean mountaineer cadre. Being able to communicate while training and conducting tactical operations is essential and those who fail to understand their fellow students and cadre are dropped from the course.
While he has overcome obstacles to remain in the course so far, Rodriguez admits that his favorite challenge has been learning to become proficient at skiing.
With the first eight weeks of the course focused on skiing and the history of how the Chilean Army developed their tactics for ski-borne operations, students spent countless hours every day learning to carry themselves and work with their squad-mates while wearing skis. Beginning with the basics of properly wearing skis, students progress to operating across mountains with 100 pound ruck sacks while carrying individual weapons in tactical over-the-snow maneuvers.
Speaking on the importance of mountain warfare training and the readiness of future formations, the 10th Mountain Division's (LI), Chief of Training, Ricardo Medeiros, believes that sending 10th Mountain Soldiers to train at the Chilean Mountain Warfare Course improves the overall readiness of the division and its Soldiers.
"We have to know the basics, and that's what the Soldiers who complete the course in Chile will bring back to their formations. They come back instructor qualified and can share their experience. That's putting the mountain back in 10th Mountain."
With the course roughly halfway complete, and a successful graduation on the horizon, the students have completed their winter phase and progress into the summer training.
When asked what motivates him through such a challenging course, Rodriguez had a simple response. "I'm a Ranger. There's just no way I'm going to quit."
Like many Soldiers, Rodriguez is more inspired by the challenge rather than daunted by it.
"Every day when I wake up it's a challenge. But it's more than a challenge, it's motivation to actually finish something difficult," Rodriguez concluded.