Marines and ROTC cadets were among the 21 students who trained in snow and cold temperatures and more to graduate from Fort McCoy Cold-Weather Operations Course (CWOC) Class 21-02 in mid-January after 14 days of training.
This was the first class of this training season that started with snow on the ground and true winter temperatures, said CWOC Instructor Hunter Heard, who coordinates training with fellow instructors Manny Ortiz, Brian Semann, and Joe Ernst. All are with contractor Veterans Range Solutions, which works with Fort McCoy’s Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization, and Security to complete the training.
Students completed snowshoe and skiing training at Whitetail Ridge Ski Area and in Pine View Recreation Area. Overall, students completed nearly 40 kilometers of marches during training, Heard said. They also learned how to pack and use ahkio sleds to carry and move gear, and they practiced extensively in building the Arctic 10-person cold-weather tent as well as improvised shelters.
Sgt. Joshua Dinwiddie with the Marine Corps 2nd Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company of Camp Lejeune, N.C., was one of several Marines in the course for training. He said the instructors are very knowledgeable and that the training helped build on related cold-weather operations skills he learned during similar training in Norway.
“It has helped reinforce knowledge I already had and added to my experiences when operating in a cold-weather environment,” Dinwiddie said. “Having already completed that course in Norway, this was a nice refresher. … Also, Fort McCoy is a great place for this kind of training.”
ROTC cadet Carter Maxey with the Michigan Technological University ROTC program in Houghton, Mich., said he learned a lot and enjoyed the training.
“The best parts of this course were the instruction and participation in winter (operations) skills,” Maxey said. “This ranges from learning to put up an (Arctic) tent, constructing an improvised shelter, to building a fire. These skills are all beneficial.”
Capt. Christopher Tighe, also with the 2nd Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company at Camp Lejeune, said snowshoe training was beneficial for skills building.
“The field portion of training was extremely helpful to get the reps in so the Marines become familiar with surviving and taking care of themselves in the cold,” Tighe said. “And getting used to snowshoeing and executing long movements on them was very helpful. It’s a skill we will use every day at our next exercise.”
The field portion of training, which includes nearly 70 percent of training in the course, was also the best part of training for ROTC cadet Brendan Kauth-Fisher with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln ROTC program. He said it was best because “it solidified all the information we learned” in the classroom.
“This course helped me build my cold-weather operational skills tremendously,” Kauth-Fisher said. “I believe I will be able to bring home skills like fire building and shelter building to my home unit. This information will help other cadets during field training exercises and challenges.”
Like his fellow Marine, Sgt. Dinwiddie, Cpl. Andrew Jordan, also with the 2nd Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company at Camp Lejeune, said Fort McCoy fits the mold for cold-weather training.
“It’s a great place considering (because) there is the capability to conduct every aspect of cold-weather training,” Jordan said.
Jordan also said overall he really liked the course, its instructors, and the course content. When asked what the best parts of the course were, he said, “All of it.”
“In a cold-weather or Arctic environment, every piece of knowledge can make a difference between surviving and thriving and such conditions,” Jordan said. “Overall this is a great course, and the instructors are very knowledgeable and are well-versed in their skillsets.”
Course objectives include focusing on terrain and weather analysis, risk management, developing winter fighting positions, camouflage and concealment in a cold-weather environment, cold-water immersion reaction and treatment, and injury prevention.
Training also includes a specialized cold-water immersion scenario, Heard said. The scenario includes having one of the squad members go through a cold-water immersion event in the lake, and then other squad members have to take what they learned during the course to help the wet squad member warm up and recover, Heard said. This includes having the squad member take off most outer clothing and then climb into a sled lined with dry blankets. At the same time, other squad members erect an Arctic cold-weather tent with a heater where the affected squad member then warms up and recovers to prevent injury.
This season of training also has required COVID-19 safety requirements be built in. In addition to social distancing, hand washing/sanitizing, and mask requirements, Heard said they also reduced class size. CWOC training for the 2020-21 season continues until late March.
Located in the heart of the upper Midwest, Fort McCoy is the only U.S. Army installation in Wisconsin. Fort McCoy’s motto is to be the “Total Force Training Center.”
The installation has provided support and facilities for the field and classroom training of more than 100,000 military personnel from all services nearly year since 1984.