FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Friends and fellow Soldiers gathered earlier this month at the Light Fighters School Auditorium to congratulated nine individuals from various units of Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) who became the first class to graduate from the Mountain Winter Warfare Leaders Course.

The objective of the five-day course is to reintroduce basic mountaineering and winter warfare techniques to the 10th Mountain Division Soldier. It is one of the newest course taught at the Light Fighters School.

"It's a great course," said 2nd Lt. Thomas R. Starnes, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team. "The instructors are very professional and knowledgeable. I can't wait to train my troops in the future."

The course is offered to leaders in the rank of staff sergeant through captain. It teaches them the basics in knots, anchor construction, hasty rappelling, fixed ropes techniques, patient packaging, environmental injuries, hauling systems, high lines, mountain weather considerations, water procurement, cold weather clothing, fighting positions, shooting platforms, environmental effects on weapons. The course culminates with a field event.

The 10th Mountain Division is no stranger to mountain warfare. This unique organization came into being on July 13, 1943, at Camp Hale, Colo., as the 10th Light Division (Alpine). The combat power of the division was contained in the 85th, 86th, and 87th Infantry Regiments. The division's year of training at the 9,200-foot-high Camp Hale honed the skills of its Soldiers to fight and survive under the most brutal mountain conditions.

On Nov. 6, 1944, the 10th Division was redesignated the 10th Mountain Division. That same month, the blue and white "Mountain" tab was authorized.

The division entered combat on Jan. 28, 1945, in the North Apennine Mountains of Italy. The division faced German positions arrayed along the five-mile-long Monte Belvedere - Monte Della Tricia ridge. Other divisions had attempted to assault Mount Belvedere three times, even holding it temporarily, but none had succeeded.

To get to Mount Belvedere, the division first had to take a ridge line to the west known to the Americans as the Riva Ridge. The Germans on Riva Ridge protected the approaches to Mount Belvedere. The assault on Riva Ridge was the task of the 1st Battalion and 2nd Battalion, 86th Mountain Infantry. After much scouting, it was decided the assault would be at night, a 1,500-vertical-ascent.

The Germans considered the ridge to be impossible to scale and manned it with only one battalion of mountain troops. The attack by the 86th on Feb. 18, 1945, was a complete success and an unwelcome surprise to the Germans.

Today, the 10th Mountain Division continues its rich tradition, by conducting the first formalized mountain training since World War II.

"We've been known as a division that fights in mountainous terrain," said Command Sgt. Maj. Rick Merritt, 10th Mountain Division (LI) senior enlisted adviser. "I want to keep the 'Mountain' in the 10th Mountain Division."