Sgt. Carlos Flores, a joint fire support specialist with 3rd Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal and presented a coin by the 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum commanding general, Maj. Gen. Brian J. Mennes, for graduating from the Chilean Army Mountain Warfare School, Dec. 13, at Fort Drum N.Y.
Flores attended the Mountain Warfare School in Rio Blanco, the home of La Escuela de Montaña. The official training began the first week of June and ended Dec. 2. Prior to that, two weeks of rigorous tryouts were conducted.
The training included both winter and summer mountain combat operations. The training taught students to read the harsh mountain terrain through a variety of conditions while learning the basics of surviving at high altitudes.
In order to pass this school, Flores said he needed to take preparation seriously.
"I ran a lot to prepare and did strength training," said Flores. "All the guys do down there is run, and run, and run non-stop. I also practiced knot tying extensively."
During the tryouts, students were graded on their running, rucking, swimming, land navigation, knot tying, and ability to retain information.
In the winter phase, students learned to ski, both downhill and cross country. Students also learned how to ski tactically with their fighting load carrier vest, weapon, and ruck.
Similarly, during the summer phase, students first learned the technical aspects of rock climbing and later learned how to climb up the side of steep mountains tactically with their FLC, weapon, and ruck.
In depth search and rescue techniques were also taught throughout the course.
There were roughly 250 people that entered the tryout portion of the school. From that pool of 250 people, only 31 students were selected. Of the 31, only 28 students made it to graduation.
Of the many grueling aspects of the course, Flores says the hardest part was the rock climbing tactical exercise. During that exercise, students were in their full gear, climbing up steep mountains in their combat boots.
"That was just the start of a week-long exercise," said Flores "We just marched in rigorous mountain terrain, which was ultimately about 80 km, with a drastic change in elevation."
At the end of the training, students participated in the Rite of Passage, where students complete a final summit. Upon completing the summit, students had a view of everywhere they had trained. Students must also walk across a rope bridge across a gully.
Flores thinks this was the most rewarding aspect of the entire course.
"It was a very long day," said Flores. "But you knew you were hours away from finishing, hours away from it all being done. I was truly, truly proud of myself."
Students then attended a graduation ceremony where they were finally able to put on a green beret and be recognized for their hard work.
"It felt great," said Flores. "It was like I was on cloud nine. There were good times and bad times, but it was seven grueling months that were wrapped up and done with.