News: Soldiers Trek Alaska's Granite Tors
Story by Spc. Thomas Duval
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - Soldiers assigned to B Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Fort Wainwright, Alaska, are prepared for anything the Alaska environment can throw at them.
Carrying a 30-pound rucksack and the determination that only an infantryman can possess, about 80 soldiers hiked the rugged terrain of Alaska's Granite Tors, Aug. 3-4.
Known for its scenic hiking trails and view overlooking the Alaska Range and Chena River Valley, the Granite Tors provides the soldiers with a training climate and terrain that is valuable for those heading overseas.
"We wanted to get the soldiers out of their barracks to experience the outdoors, get some physical training and build team cohesion," Capt. Brian C. Harber, B Company commander said. "I think the training really paid off and I'm really happy with the way it went."
On the way to the top soldiers were taught important survival skills like water purification and wildlife safety.
Many of the soldiers huddled around a puddle of stagnant rain water to watch as key leaders demonstrated the ability to turn parasitic water into purified drinking water using a hand held pump.
The hand held pump proved to be vital to the mission early on as soldiers found themselves low on water with more than 10 miles of hiking to go.
"It just shows that you have to be prepared in a state with such unpredictable weather and terrain," said Pvt. Sean Jephcote, an infantryman assigned to B Company, 1-24th.
After a long uphill battle with the mountain side, the soldiers experienced firsthand the benefits of being in Alaska.
"You really have to be here to experience and appreciate what Alaska has to offer," Jephcote said. "You can't find this kind of view in the lower 48."
Once at the top of the large granite outcroppings, Harber stressed the importance of understanding the surroundings.
Knowing how to prepare for the unknown, whether the temperature is 50 below or 90 degrees is important for everyone living in Alaska, Harber said.
After their briefing, soldiers enjoyed one last glance at Alaska's midnight sun then climbed in their sleeping bags for a short recovery period before taking off on the next mission.
As 6 a.m. rolled around, the smell of Meals, Ready to Eat coffee and baby wipes filled the air as soldiers prepared for the long journey home. Before stepping off on the seven-mile trail home soldiers gathered around for more mountaineering training which included successfully putting together a “3:1” pulley system used in rough terrain evacuations.
The pulley system allows soldier to move casualties up and over mountainous terrain with minimal effort, according to Harber.
On the other side of the towering granite rock, soldiers participated in a range estimation exercise. Using binoculars, they estimated and made adjustments necessary to target enemy combatants at long range.
As the soldiers reached the finish point there was still one more obstacle to overcome, building a rope bridge over the Chena River.
Carrying ropes and bogged down by their uniforms, two soldiers swam across the cold Chena River waters to hook up a safety line. Once the line was secured soldiers took turns crossing the river using the rope.
"It was a great opportunity for soldiers to build esprit de corps and maybe give some of them a gut check," Harber said.
The extreme cold temperatures and the powerful current made the task very challenging and for soldiers new to the unit like Jephcote, a Los Angeles native. He said the training offered a glimpse into every challenging aspect of being an Arctic Wolf soldier and member of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.
"Physically, it was very tiring," Jephcote said. "It teaches you that you can never judge a book by its cover.