Eleven students attending class 21-05 of the Fort McCoy Cold-Weather Operations Course (CWOC) completed their 14 days of course training March 19 with cold-water immersion training at an ice-free Big Sandy Lake on the installation’s South Post.
And even though the weather was much warmer than previous class sessions, class 21-05 students received quality training, 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.
“Class 21-05 was a challenging course, for both the students as well as the instructors,” Heard said. “With early warming temperatures, we lost almost all of the snow at Fort McCoy the week prior to the course starting. This meant that the days we would usually spend teaching skiing, snowshoeing, and other tasks involving the snow were now going to be canceled, and we had to fill that time training other tasks.
“So class 21-05 got the benefit of more fieldcraft training than other classes this season,” Heard said. “Also the unusually warmer temperatures meant that we had to switch the students’ uniforms back and forth between the Extended Cold-Weather Clothing System (ECWCS) to their regular duty uniform. All in all, while it was a much different-looking course than what we were used to. But that said, the students performed well. We had great participation from the Wisconsin National Guard, and it was a great way to close out the 2020-21 training season.”
Pfc. Sara Huerta, a student with Higher Headquarters Battalion, 121st Field Artillery in Milwaukee, said the course helped her build on her Soldier skills, and more.
“This course taught me to be resilient,” Huerta said. “It taught me how to defend and protect myself in cold weather. I built special skills, including building a shelter, building fires, using rope in a variety of ways, and using other equipment.”
Fire building and shelter building, which are core fieldcraft skills taught in the course, were also skills taught to student Pfc. Caleb Rausch who appreciated them.
“Fire starting is a class that I want to teach at my unit,” said Rausch, who serves with Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry Regiment in Waupun, Wis. “I also want to teach shelter building. … This course (overall) made me more equipped to survive in cold-weather situations.”
Sgt. Kenneth Yeager with the 646th Regional Support Group Headquarters and Headquarters Company in Madison, Wis., said the course was a back-to-the-basics learning experience.
“It refocused the importance of the basics of soldiering skills,” Yeager said. “We learned land-navigation fundamentals and those many survival and fieldcraft skills that are important for all Soldiers.”
Staff Sgt. Joshua Mezyk with Alpha Company, 173rd Brigade Engineer Battalion of Wausau, Wis., had a similar reflection on his training in class 21-05.
“The course shaped and refined my fieldcraft skills to better operate as a Soldier,” Mezyk said, “The field training portion of the course was amazing, and all the (instructors) were outstanding. … The course is well set up and provides great instruction about cold-weather operations.”
Overall, CWOC students are trained on a variety of cold-weather subjects, Heard said. It includes how to use ahkio sleds as a squad and other gear. Training also focuses on terrain and weather analysis, risk management, cold-weather clothing, developing winter-fighting positions in the field, camouflage and concealment, and numerous other areas that are important to know in order to survive and operate in a cold-weather environment.
For Spc. Tyler Johnson, another student with the 173rd Brigade Engineer Battalion, everything he learned will help him as a combat engineer with the Wisconsin National Guard.
“If and when the time comes that I am put in a situation involving dangerously cold weather, I will be able to not only protect myself but also help maintain the health and readiness of my fellow service members,” Johnson said.
Johnson also liked learning more about the ECWCS. “I received a full grasp of what the ECWCS does to allow for improved readiness just by knowing how to correctly utilize it,” he said.
Staff Sgt. Ryan Pritchett with Fort McCoy Garrison’s Religious Support Office also was a student. He said he was glad to have the opportunity to participate in the course.
“It challenged me to push through difficult times,” Pritchett said. “It taught me to lead when necessary and to follow when necessary. The course also reminded me to a team member at all times.”
A year ago, at the end of the 2019-2020 CWOC training season at Fort McCoy in March, the CWOC staff and students experienced the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and had to adapt and adjust training, Heard said. So the pandemic affected how the 2020-21 season was going to take place. This included smaller class sizes and changes in how the curriculum was completed.
“We went in just hoping to get a full and successful training season while still abiding by the safety guidelines for COVID-19,” Heard said. “I think we accomplished that successfully.”
Fort McCoy’s motto is to be the Total Force Training Center.
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 nearly every year since 1984.