Just days before the first class for Fort McCoy's Cold-Weather Operations Course (CWOC) started Dec. 3 for the 2018-19 winter season, about eight inches of snow fell at the installation, helping kick off the training season.

"Getting the snow was a bonus," said Bill Hamilton, lead Cold-Weather Operations Course (CWOC) instructor who works for contractor Veterans Range Solutions, which supports the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, or DPTMS. "Having the weather cooperate with the training we had planned really helped us."

CWOC Class 19-01 had 39 students from across the country as well as from the Fort McCoy Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) Academy. They completed 14 days of training that included a wide range of cold-weather subjects, including skiing and snowshoe training, how to use ahkio sleds, setting up the Arctic 10-person cold-weather tent, and more.

Training also focused on terrain and weather analysis, risk management, proper wear of cold-weather clothing, developing winter fighting positions in the field, camouflage and concealment, and more, Hamilton said.

The 2018-19 CWOC training season came with some changes, including the addition of two more days of training, a new marching route was established with new bivouac sites, and the course now incorporates the use of the Home Station Instrumentation Training System (HITS).

HITS is a training aids, devices, simulators, and simulations system that supports after-action review (AAR) capabilities for units at the battalion and below level, said Fort McCoy Training Support Officer Rob Weisbrod with DPTMS. HITS provides automated tools and instrumentation for unit leaders and designated observer-controller/trainers to collect, analyze, and present training-performance feedback to their unit in a multimedia AAR and take-home package.

"Using HITS helps us with our training and gives our students another tool to build their skills while at the same time helping us to improve course operations," said CWOC instructor Joe Ernst.

Students in the first class said they gained some valuable experience.

"As a 12B combat engineer, our job is mobility, counter-mobility, and survivability," said student Sgt. 1st Class James Teague with the Fort McCoy NCO Academy. "This course significantly added to the mobility and survivability aspects of my (military occupational specialty) in a cold-weather environment. I highly recommend more engineer leaders take this course in order to train these tenets."

Student Sgt. Jose Alvarez, fire team leader with Detachment 1, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry of Rice Lake, Wis., said infantrymen like him have to be able to conduct operations in all types of environments and climates. The CWOC helped build operational skills.

"This course helped me in learning how to properly use the Army Extreme Cold-Weather Clothing System (ECWCS)," Alvarez said. "That's something I've never been taught. ... (Other) parts of the course for me that were helpful were learning basic survival techniques and building thermal shelters using various materials that were available."

Army ROTC Cadet Michael Boster with the University of Alabama said he was grateful to get more field experience.

"It was an exercise in mental toughness as well as an exposure to Soldiers and officers of all backgrounds," Boster said. "I now know how to handle the cold, survive in it, and work with different types of people."

Fort McCoy's CWOC is modeled after the Cold-Weather Leader Course, which is taught by the Army Northern Warfare Training Center (NWTC) at Black Rapids, Alaska, Hamilton said.

"In our training, we complete training scenarios all over the post," Hamilton said. "Our students use ahkio sleds to haul all of their equipment, and they will traverse through nearly 35 miles of terrain starting on North Post and ending at Big Sandy Lake on South Post. Our program of instruction is nearly identical to that at NWTC with the exception that we don't teach certain skills, such as mountaineering."

On the last two days of the course, students completed extensive skiing training on a new type of ski at Whitetail Ridge Ski Area. Many said they enjoyed learning skiing basics.

"Skiing and snowshoeing were great blocks of instruction," said student Staff Sgt, Alexander Bess with the Fort McCoy NCO Academy.

Hamilton said they received course feedback from students and will also get feedback from remaining classes. He said feedback is a key factor for course improvement. "We always want to make the training even better," Hamilton said.

Five more CWOC classes will be taught through the end of March 2019.

Located in the heart of the upper Midwest, Fort McCoy is the only U.S. Army installation in Wisconsin. The installation has provided support and facilities for the field and classroom training of more than 100,000 military personnel from all services each year since 1984.

Learn more about Fort McCoy online at https://home.army.mil/mccoy, on Facebook by searching "ftmccoy," and on Twitter by searching "usagmccoy.