BLACK RAPIDS TRAINING SITE, Alaska (March 21, 2013) -- The squad of Soldiers, all from different units and with different backgrounds, gathered around a mock casualty and waited for the call. Though they had only known each other for a short time, today they would prove that they could work and win as one.

"Ready, set, go!"

At that command, eight Soldiers charged up the snowy mountain like an Iditarod dog team. The Soldiers pulled behind them a flexible sled with a 220-pound life-like mannequin bundled and secured as an injured Soldier would be. They raced 200 yards up the hill and back to in hopes of being the squad with the fastest time.

This was just one of the many events that made up Arctic Challenge, a new competitive addition to the Northern Warfare Training Center's, or NWTC's, Cold Weather Leaders Course.

According to one of the instructors, a rain storm temporarily melted most of the snow at the NWTC's training site during one iteration of the course, and the instructors needed something to fill in the time -- thus Arctic Challenge was born.

They liked it so much they decided to keep the challenge even after the snow returned.

The NWTC's mission is to give Soldiers the necessary arctic skills to survive and successfully complete their mission in any cold weather environment, whether it's in Alaska or the mountains of Afghanistan.

The Soldiers learn to move through snow covered terrain using Army-issued snow shoes and skis, how to survive outdoors by constructing shelters, and how to treat, package and transport casualties.

They also hone their communications skills and marksmanship throughout the course and again at the Arctic Challenge range event.

NWTC Instructor Sgt. First Class Pedro Chavez said the competition plays a vital role in team building and improving communication between the members of a squad.

"(The objective of the range is) to engage the target using the three (firing) positions that we teach them, which is standing, prone and kneeling while utilizing their (ski) pole and their skis," Chavez said. "Earlier in the class they learned how to do all three positions in skis and snowshoes."

"By battle buddy teams they shoot at one target (with multiple silhouettes) -- they have 25 rounds apiece and 10 targets which should, at the end, have five rounds in each," he said.

"It's all about accuracy," Chavez said. "It's about fundamentals -- talking to one another making sure they are not shooting the same targets. It builds a lot of teamwork."

The Cold Weather Leaders Course is two weeks of intense training that is mentally and physically demanding. With temperatures dropping in the negatives and full days of outdoor movements and activities, this course is not for the weak or the weak at heart.

"The course is tough," said Staff Sgt. Edward Colburn, a St. Louis native with 5th Squadron, 1st Cavalry, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. "The hardest part of the course was just trying to keep up. We have a lot of strong guys on this squad. It's a lot of outdoors, which I like, but the land navigation was hard because the weather was bad."

He said he liked the course overall.

"I like being able to take everything I've learned and actually put it into play," Colburn said. "Skiing has been the best part of the course. (I'd) never skied before and I love it. I would recommend this course to everybody. This course will definitely teach a lot of things on how to survive outside."