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|A line of Cold Weather Leaders Course students traverse the Black Rapids Training Site Feb. 27 during a snowshoe march. CWLC students become familiar with snowshoe and ski movement techniques, logging many miles in both throughout the course of instruction.||Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Holman, Northern Warfare Training Center instructor, tows skijoring Cold Weather Leaders Course students Feb. 27 at Black Rapids Training Site.|
|A Soldier observes the majestic valley enveloping the Black Rapids Training Site Feb. 27. BRTS is located approximately 30 miles south of Fort Greely and is home to Northern Warfare Training Center’s ski slope and rock climbing area.||Staff Sgt. Cody Stowe, Black Rapids Training Site NCOIC, demonstrates a telemarking, a method of downhill skiing, on the BRTS slopes. Northern Warfare Training Center instructors are experts in arctic movement techniques and train two levels above the Cold Weather Leaders Course students they are charged with teaching.|
|Second Lt. Luke Plante, 472nd Military Police Company, grimaces while probing as part of team in search of a simulated avalanche victim at the Black Rapids Training Site Feb. 27. Cold Weather Leaders Course students learn a wide variety of arctic skills necessary to be successful during winter operations.||Magnesium snowshoes frame the Black Rapids Training Site landscape Feb. 27 while Cold Weather Leaders Course students prepare for avalanche hazards training.|
|Capt. David King, Headquarters, Task Force 49, listens to a Northern Warfare Training Center instructor Sunday during a review for the Cold Weather Leaders Course final exam. CWLC is a mix of academic and hands on training with most training days spent on the Black Rapids Training Site’s ski trails.||Sgt. Jeremy Sledge, D Company, 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment, uses a herringbone stance to traverse the Black Rapids Training Site ski hill Feb. 26 during Cold Weather Training Course ski progression training. CWLC students learn a variety of methods necessary to successfully traverse arctic and sub-arctic terrain.|
|Northern Warfare Training Center training specialist Steven Decker admonishes Cold Weather Leaders Course students Feb. 27 during avalanche hazards training at the Black Rapids Training Site.||Sgt. Jose Merced, B Company, Warrior Transition Battalion listens to instructions Feb. 25 before firing in a snowshoe kneeling position. Cold Weather Leaders Course students are taught arctic movement techniques during the course at the Black Rapids Training Site and are mentored closely by Northern Warfare Training Center instructors.|
|Northern Warfare Training Center instructors demonstrate skijoring using a Small Unit Support Vehicle Feb. 27 to Cold Weather Leaders Course students at Black Rapids Training Site.||Staff Sgt. Cody Stowe, Black Rapids Training Site NCOIC, straps into military skis Sunday before making a run down the BRTS ski slope.|
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"A Soldier trained in winter is also a good summer fighter; trained only in summer he is helpless in the winter." – Northern Warfare Training Center axiom
Seventy junior leaders from all corners of U.S. Army Alaska gathered at the Northern Warfare Training Center's Black Rapids Training Site to attend the Cold Weather Leaders Course Feb. 18 through March 2.
BRTS, located approximately 30 miles south of Fort Greely, has been the home of the Army's cold weather training and doctrine since 1957 and is complemented by Gabriel Barracks, a ski slope with a lift line, a rock climbing area and all the equipment and crew necessary to outfit a fully functional training facility, said Maj. Anthony Ely, NWTC commandant.
Staff Sgt. Paul Willey, NWTC instructor, said the 13-day course offers squad and platoon leadership the foundation for safely training their units in the wintertime.
"What we teach at CWLC is a platform for leaders to build upon, to integrate into their (standard operating procedures)," Willey said. "The key thing we teach is safety, safety, safety."
Ely said CWLC promotes Soldier safety by teaching leaders cold-weather operations so they can take knowledge garnered during the course back to their units for wider dissemination.
"The intent of CWLC is that those individuals who make it through the course successfully are now certified to teach Arctic Light Individual Training, which is a USARAK (regulation) 350-1 (training) requirement that all Soldiers assigned to USARAK will complete ALIT annually," Ely said.
"Seventy percent of the year in Alaska is going to be cold-weather operations," Ely continued. "The expectation is that all Soldiers, before they conduct any type of outdoor training, conduct a thorough ALIT to standard."
To that end, CWLC is formulated to teach first-line leadership about training in the Arctic.
"Our target audience for CWLC is young sergeants all the way up to sergeants first class and platoon leaders, and they go through CWLC for 13 days, training in cold-weather operations, introduction to skiing, snowshoes, etc," Ely explained.
Ely said since Fort Greely's base realignment and closure in 2000, NWTC has been headquartered at Fort Wainwright, with 34 Soldiers and 12 civilians routinely traveling 120 miles to BRTS to support training.
BRTS is a fully functional outpost with a power plant, a dining facility and billeting for students and visiting guests, Ely said.
Willey said NWTC instructors are carefully selected, interviewing for the position and attending two eight-week instructor qualifying courses and one winter and one summer course. Instructors further hone their skills throughout the year by attending the Wilderness First Responder Course, the Alaska Avalanche School and traveling to Joshua Tree National Park, Calif., to learn advanced climbing techniques, Willey said.
In addition to teaching CWLC, Ely said NWTC offers the Cold Weather Orientation Course, which is an abbreviated course for familiarizing commanders and staff with winter operations. The Basic Mountaineering Course is also offered during the summer to teach students the skills necessary to traverse mountainous terrain.
Ely said CWLC is the most important course for winter operations, providing the link between NWTC institutional knowledge and the Soldiers who need the information to thrive in cold weather.
The course begins with classroom instruction that details arctic and sub-arctic regions and terrain, cold weather effects on equipment and Soldiers, how to dress properly for cold weather using the Army's Extreme Cold Weather Clothing System and preventing and treating cold-weather injuries, he said.
Willey said time spent learning indoors is brief.
"Instead of just sitting in a classroom, we take and make students apply everything they have learned outdoors," he said.
Students spend a lot of nights sleeping outdoors as a part of an ahkio group, Ely said. As a part of the squad, the Soldiers pull an ahkio, a fiberglass sled loaded with a 10-man tent, an H-45 stove for heat, fire extinguishers and other accoutrements required for winter field craft.
Soldiers also learn to accomplish small-unit movements using snowshoes before graduating to more versatile and more difficult to master military skis, which can be used for cross-country and downhill movements.
"Moving with skis is the most efficient way to traverse cross-country in the snow, period," Ely explained. "It's more efficient and quicker than snowshoes."
Though Ely acknowledges Soldiers are unlikely to use skis during a deployment, they are useful at their home station.
"(Skis) give units an alternative to maintain physical fitness or use training areas they wouldn't be able to access with (vapor barrier) boots or snowshoes," Ely said.
Student leader Sgt. Jeramy Sledge, D Company, 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment, said he was surprised by how physically demanding the course was.
"I figure I'm in pretty good shape," Sledge said, "but coming up here to elevation, it messes you up. It really does. Physically, it can be exhausting. We are always on the move."
Sledge, who reported to Fort Wainwright in October, said it can be difficult for leaders to simultaneously take care of their own needs, watch out for Soldiers and set the example.
"When it's cold, say negative 15 degrees and a wind chill of 20 miles an hour, you just don't want to do anything, so you really have to push yourself," Sledge explained. "That's the biggest challenge of all -- that self motivation. Add to that knowing there are other people looking at you saying, 'OK, what are you going to do?'"
CWLC students also learn how to construct an improvised thermal shelter, how to avoid avalanche areas and how to find and rescue avalanche victims using a beacon or by recognizing surface clues,
NWTC places a great emphasis on risk management during the course by identifying risk factors, formulating risk control measures, implementing control measures and supervising those measures as well.
The supervision usually requires constant spot checks for frostbite and hypothermia.
"The test really is, 'Can students themselves conduct a 10-kilometer movement on skis or snowshoes without suffering a cold-weather injury?'" Ely explained. "Cold-weather checks are mandatory, not optional, and we drill it into students that they have to check each other for cold-weather injuries. We play it on the safe side here."
Ely said the ultimate aim of CWLC is simple.
"It all boils down to caring for Soldiers," Ely said. "If you are a new Soldier coming from the Lower 48, the expectation is that no one is going to send you to the field unless you are properly prepared and you have the skills to protect yourself from becoming a cold weather injury."