FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Each winter, the mountains of Vermont become a travel destination for winter enthusiasts across the nation. The 10th Mountain Division, with its unique heritage as the Army's alpine skiers during World War II, has strong roots in this part of the country because of the war-time and post-war contributions of these veterans.
But while the modern-day 10th Mountain Division is better known for its expertise as a Light Infantry division than scaling mountains like its World War II forbearers, the legacy of those first mountain Soldiers lives on in this rugged landscape. At Camp Ethan Allen, the Army Mountain Warfare School continues to train Soldiers on how to operate in harsh mountain terrain.
In early January, during some of the coldest weather of the year, 1st Lt. Matthew Miller and Sgt. 1st Class Joey Wing of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, both took on the challenge of the Basic Military Mountaineer Winter Course.
For two weeks, these two Soldiers learned how to operate in freezing temperatures, challenging themselves physically and mentally. Though the conditions were comparable to their home-station training at Fort Drum, the increased elevation and rugged terrain brought along new variables.
The reality is that mountains can be unforgiving, and without the proper training, accidents in rough terrain are multiplied in severity, shared Miller.
From rope training, and knot tying, to climbing techniques, both Soldiers agreed that the core of this course taught them new ways to overcome obstacles. Terrain features that used to be impassable, such as ice-covered rock faces in steep valleys, now presented potential avenues to advance their positions.
Sharing his experience, Miller described what it was like climbing a frozen rock face, something that he would not have considered as a possible route before the course.
"It's a wall of ice. But it's the easiest way to where we need to go. So we start climbing."
"This training has made me enormously aware of the constraints and requirements of operating in mountainous terrain. As for ice-climbing, it's pretty fun."
But their newfound respect for planning missions and operating in rugged mountain terrain won't end at graduation for these two.
For Wing, this knowledge will allow him to better train his Soldiers in mountaineering skills that could potentially reduce injuries and increase mission success. For Miller, he continued his training after graduation, entering the Advanced Military Mountaineer Course, and he plans to take the summer course in the future.
Reflecting on the history of the 10th Mountain Division and their opportunity to conduct modern-day mountaineering training in Vermont, both Soldiers agreed that their appreciation and respect for those Soldiers who trained at Camp Hale, Colorado during World War II has grown.
"The Army Mountain Warfare School is everything that 10th Mountain Soldiers have read about from our history during World War II," said Wing passionately.
"Our division's history is everywhere in the school-house, and posted on the walls are hundreds of photos of 10th Mountain Soldiers training from that era. When you secure your crampons to your boots, and stow your ice ax on your rucksack, you know you are getting a unique and challenging experience. Climb on!"