JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska - The 4-25’s training went beyond individual arctic skills, because it provided senior leadership training for all command teams across the brigade.
Command leadership teams from across the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, participated in the U.S. Army’s Cold Weather Orientation Course March 26-29, 2013, at the Northern Warfare Training Center at the Black Rapids Training Site near Fort Greely, Alaska.
This unique Cold Weather Orientation Course gave all command teams across the 4-25th the opportunity to further develop their arctic leadership skills, and share their lessons learned from leading Paratroopers in combat, and in the last frontier.
The Northern Warfare Training Center is headquartered at Fort Wainwright, and is located in the interior region of Alaska, about 30 miles south of Delta Junction. The training area is a rugged, remote, and cold environment which makes it a premiere location for operational training in an arctic region.
NWTC’s commandant, Maj. William Prayner, said CWOC is a course where senior leaders, company grade and above, are introduced to basic arctic skills which are required to sustain and survive in an arctic environment.
“It teaches them the individual skills which allow them to go off and execute collective tasks,” said Prayner.
The 4-25’s training went beyond individual arctic skills, because it provided senior leadership training for all command teams across the brigade.
“The 4-25’s event was a modified version of our CWOC, where it was a higher level of intensity with a tactical mission added to it,” Prayner said. “It allowed them to experience the realities of training in Alaska … We had a tremendous opportunity to train more than 58 company commanders and first sergeants on what it takes to operate in the arctic. They experienced it first-hand … They are going to better understand their equipment, themselves, and really what it takes to prepare their units to conduct arctic training over the next several years.”
Prayner said the leaders of the 4-25 were exposed to 30 mph winds, five-foot deep snow, sub-zero temperatures, and significantly demanding terrain during their time at NWTC.
The first morning of the training saw the command teams embarking into an environment that was minus 15 F. The deep snow required the paratroopers to dig down several feet in order to construct their arctic shelters.
Many challenges can arise in an arctic environment such as weapons malfunctions, movement difficulty, and cold-weather injuries. Command teams learned how to effectively manage and operate their equipment in the extremely cold environment. They learned how to inventory and move ahkios (sleds rigged with arctic survival gear), erect 10-man tents, employ space heaters and squad stoves, and don snowshoes and the Army’s Extended Cold Weather Clothing Systems.
Capt. Nick Carlton, from Fowlerville, Mich., commander of Baker Company, 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment, said the training was challenging because of the rigorous physical requirements. The extremely cold conditions made simple and routine tasks difficult. Planning and accounting for difficult maneuvering in an arctic environment was a key piece of the training, he said.
“Moving with ahkios is extremely physically demanding. That was probably the most difficult part of the training. The snowshoeing part is similar to ruck marching. Once you get into the groove and the zone, you’re alright, but when you start pulling the ahkio with four or five other guys in the wind and you have hills to negotiate, and vegetation, and micro-terrain to negotiate it becomes very, very difficult.”
“Operating in a severely cold weather environment gives you an idea of how your equipment is supposed to work and how the arctic shelters, [10-man tents] are supposed to work,” Carlton said.
“And then, how to move, and some of the planning considerations, specifically for the leaders. Like, what are the planning considerations while moving with snow shoes, while moving with ahkios,” he said. “Everything takes longer. To include putting on gloves and putting on coats. The training is very deliberate and very well thought out.”
“The training was excellent. I look forward to trying to get our subordinates there, and taking my company and leaders, whether it is CWOC, or basic mountaineering. It’s an excellent training area. I can’t wait to try and get back there.”
First Sgt. Erick Ochs, from Reading, Pa., with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, said the training was very useful from a leader’s standpoint because it gave them practical experience working with the equipment their soldiers are expected to employ.
Confidence in the equipment was a key take away for Ochs. He said he gained trust in the equipment issued, and when used properly, it can protect and sustain soldiers’ lives.
“I think the training was great. We have all of this equipment we expect the soldiers to use and carry around, but I had never put a 10-man tent up before or placed a stove into operation. So, just like basic leadership principals, we shouldn’t be asking our soldiers to do anything we aren’t doing ourselves … So, now we know how to plan our training,” Ochs said.
The 4-25’s commanding officer, Col. Matthew McFarlane said, "The purpose was to qualify leaders on cold weather training, and to develop leadership skills in field conditions. It built cohesion across brigade leadership, giving infantry and support commanders the chance to train and interact together …. It gave them the opportunity to share ideas on what's working, and what can be improved across all the companies in the brigade."