For the second year in a row, a February class of the Fort McCoy Cold-Weather Operations Course had Airmen as a large contingent of the participants in the training.
“Class 21-04 was a great class for us,” 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.
“This season, with the safety precautions for COVID-19, this was our largest class,” Heard said. “This was also our second year with an almost all-Air Force class. We had students from the 164th Security Forces Squadron of Memphis, Tenn., as well as Air Force cadre members from there who attended class 20-04 here last season.
“Having a class of students primarily from the southern states was fun to observe and instruct,” Heard added. “We had lots of students who had never even seen snow before, let alone ski or snowshoe. The weather conditions were really great for this class to get them exposed to cold and movement over snow-covered terrain and more. We had plenty of snow on the ground for cross-country skiing, as well as ahkio sled hauling in the field. In fact, the snow was at its deepest for the season that added another level of difficulty for some of the movements during the field portion. All in all it was a great course.”
The Air Force students weren’t just from the 164th. Others came from other units, such as the 134th Security Forces Squadron of McGhee-Tyson Air National Guard Base, Tenn.; 910th Security Forces Squadron at Youngstown Air Reserve Base, Ohio; 128th Security Forces Squadron at Milwaukee; and the 118th Force Support Squadron and 118th Security Forces Squadron at Nashville.
Soldiers participating came from units such as the 230th Engineer Battalion of Trenton, Tenn.; 452nd Combat Support Hospital of Fort Snelling, Minn.; and the 2nd Battalion, 12th Field Artillery Regiment of Fort Carson, Colo.
Senior Airman Cody Rager with the 118th Security Forces Squadron said the training helped him better understand the gear he would need in cold-weather operations, and he said that knowing the proper use of the gear also affects a service member’s performance with the gear in cold weather. He also said there were plenty of other skills gained from the course that he liked.
“Instruction on shelter building in creating a warm shelter with little material was particularly helpful,” Rager said.
And on doing the training at Fort McCoy, Rager added, “The cold temperatures and snow make it ideal for this type of training."
Staff Sgt. Clifton Cattron with the 164th Security Forces Squadron said he learned he can endure anything he puts his mind to because of the skills he gained from the course.
“Everything about the course was good,” Cattron said. “I can’t think of a bad part. … I will definitely take the shelter building skills back with me to help train others. Being able to build a shelter can help anyone at any time of year. … Also, the instructors definitely know their job. They made sure everyone was prepared for the experience.”
For Airman 1st Class Alexis Edwards, also with the 164th, learning to tie knots and build fires were part of an overall experience that can build on other things. “I can take a lot of things I learned here and apply them to other skills I know,” Edwards said.
Spc. Caleb Davis with the 230th Engineer Battalion said he learned how to build better teamwork, and more.
“The training helped me understand the concept that you’re only as strong and as fast as the weakest member of any team,” Davis said. “It also helped me mold my leadership for the better. Teamwork is absolutely essential.”
Students completed snowshoe and skiing training at Whitetail Ridge Ski Area and on training areas throughout the post. 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.
Course objectives also 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, Heard said.
“As someone who dislikes cold weather, this training most definitely increased my tolerance and cold-weather threshold,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Jones with the 134th Security Forces Squadron. “Heavy rucking through snow was an unforeseen challenge. This course will most definitely toughen and benefit anyone.”
This season of training also has required COVID-19 safety requirements. 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 through 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.
Learn more about Fort McCoy online at https://home.army.mil/mccoy, on Facebook by searching “ftmccoy,” and on Twitter by searching “usagmccoy.” Also try downloading the Digital Garrison app to your smartphone and set “Fort McCoy” or another installation as your preferred base.