By Cheryl RodewigNovember 7, 2012
FORT BENNING, Ga. (Nov. 7, 2012) -- Soldiers in 3rd Special Forces Group spent four weeks last month conducting complex mountaineering tasks just outside Camp Merrill, home to the 5th Ranger Training Battalion. Located on the outskirts of Dahlonega, Ga., Camp Merrill is primarily used for students in their second phase of Ranger School, but it also provides an opportune site for other U.S. military units looking to train in the mountains.
"Part of our mission -- as well as training Rangers students -- is to support the greater Army," said Maj. Peter Vangjel, operations officer for 5th RTB. "Camp Merrill's a very unique location. It readily simulates terrain you see in Afghanistan at a lower average elevation.
"Almost every week we have a visiting unit or some element from outside the Army coming here to use our facilities. There are not many other places on the East Coast or really in the country that can provide the same training and resources."
Vangjel said the value of Camp Merrill as a training site is a combination of the landscape and the convenience of being near a military camp.
The site, which includes a dining facility and space for lodging Soldiers, is open year-round, and its training space encompasses the entire Chattahoochee National Forest -- more than 300,000 acres.
For the 41 Soldiers in C Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, it was the best place to learn how to move, plan and adapt in a mountainous environment. They dealt with all the difficulty of the new terrain, from lengthy night operations to modifying their communication equipment for the rocky landscape, said Maj. Kirk Brinker, the company commander.
Brinker said he remembered the challenges of mountain training when he went through Ranger School, and it's something he believes his Soldiers should be familiar with.
"Operating in mountainous terrain is a perishable skill we must routinely train on in order to maintain both individual and collective proficiency," he said.
"Only in the mountains can you train mountain land navigation, survival in the mountains … dismounted route planning through the mountains. In order to practice those tactics, techniques and procedures, you have to be in a mountainous region. You can't simulate that."
Fort Bragg, N.C., the home of 3rd Special Forces Group, six hours from Camp Merrill, is predominantly flat. Mount Yonah, where Ranger students regularly train, measures more than 3,000 feet tall.
Some of his Soldiers are Ranger graduates, Brinker said, but for most the mountain training was a needed refresher. They also benefited from the professional instruction of 5th RTB cadre, he said.
"We started planning this several months ago," Brinker said.
"The training was extremely effective due to the mountainous terrain and the infrastructure and logistical support from 5th RTB. (We were) able to train on multiple individual and collective tasks simultaneously in a relatively short period of time. Nowhere else could we have, for the same monetary cost, conducted the same quality of training in preparation for future deployments. The training at Camp Merrill served as the company's premiere collective training event."