FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska -- Seeking to increase cooperation with the United States concerning arctic training, several members of the German Army recently paid a visit to Alaska to observe the U.S. Army’s arctic training and facilities.
U.S. Army Maj. Jeffery Fritz is assigned to the German Army Headquarters International Cooperation section in Strausberg, Germany, as part of the Military Personnel Exchange Program, and helped organize and lead the delegation.
“The genesis of German Army interest in Alaska began during the release of the February 2021 U.S. Army Arctic strategy, Regaining Arctic Dominance,” said Fritz.
Fritz said the German Navy and Air Force have already began visiting with their U.S. counterparts in the Pacific theater the last two years.
“The purpose of this visit is to exchange tactics, techniques and procedures from lessons learned during operations in Arctic climates, identify potential opportunities for collective training with the brigades and division there, and identify opportunities for increased bilateral individual training opportunities at the Northern Warfare Center in Alaska,” said Fritz.
Representatives from the headquarters of the Germany Army, known as the Bundeswehr, and its 1st Airborne Brigade and 23rd Mountain Brigade began their visit at Joint Base Elemendorf-Richardson. While there, they met with 11th Airborne Division leadership, viewed static displays, and were briefed on cold weather medical evacuation operations, among other topics.
“We’re here to gain some insight and knowledge about the environment, climate, possibilities of training, and also the equipment you use and your training facilities,” said Lt. Col. Patrik Martin, training director for the 23rd Mountain Brigade.
The second half of the trip consisted of a visit to Fort Wainwright and the Black Rapids Training Site. While at Fort Wainwright, the delegation was hosted by 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, who organized a morning physical training session in the Birch Hill Recreational Area consisting of a ski outing in the dark. All participants strapped issued skis onto their own boots and donned headlamps for a trek uphill and some cushioned rides downhill, due to the fresh snow that fell the night before.
At the end of the session, the commanding officer of 3-21, Lt. Col. Jonathan Doiron, remarked, “It’s great to welcome our Bundeswehr partners … the Arctic is a frontier that we really haven’t worked together too much on in the past two decades, with the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and so it’s great to have our partners here to be able to continue to build this capability as we look toward to the future of NATO’s defense.”
Following the ski session, the delegation toured the garrison to view the battalion and company areas and indoor training facilities. They also walked through a static display comprising skis, snowshoes, arctic tents, heaters, and the Army’s 7-layer extended climate warfighter clothing system, more commonly referred to by its acronym ECWCS.
The final day of the visit consisted of a flight to Fort Greely via UH-60 Blackhawk, courtesy of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment, and then ground transportation to Black Rapids. Jim Fraijo, deputy commandant of the Northern Warfare Training Center, showed the delegation the classrooms, living and dining spaces for students and staff, and a portion of the training area.
Fraijo stated that NWTC offers courses in basic and advanced military mountaineering, mountain warfare, cold weather orientation, and cold weather leadership. While the majority of the students are from the U.S. Army, the school also hosts students from the other branches of the Department of Defense, various federal agencies and law enforcement organizations, and foreign militaries.
According to Fraijo, students can participate in the Army’s program of instruction, or external agencies can use the facility as a base to run their own training programs, something the Germany Army may be interested in doing.
While Martin noted any final decisions would be made well above his level, he envisions bringing German soldiers back to Alaska to train at Black Rapids.
“In our home region, we have the heights, the Alps, but it’s not cold enough. If it’s a cold winter, a really cold winter, in our region sometimes it’s -20 Celsius [-4 Fahrenheit], so it is not so cold for you. In Norway [where the Bundeswehr does a lot of training], they have the cold, but not the height. We have been looking for areas that provide both at the same time, and I think this area at Black Rapids is able to provide us both.”
Reflecting on the visit, Doiron commented that the goal of the experience was “to enhance professional relationships and establish a baseline from which to expand interoperability between the United States and German Armies. As NATO allies, we must continue to train and grow together in our ability to provide an effective collective defense for all NATO. This visit allowed us to share best practices for operating in high altitude and extreme cold weather environments, setting the stage for future cooperation as we work to provide well trained, ready, and interoperable forces for employment by NATO.”
The 11th Airborne Division can expect to host representatives from the Bundeswehr again when they return in the spring for the next iteration of the Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center exercise.