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Marines and sailors of Regimental Combat Team 7 out of the Combat Center shovel snow to make their bivouac, or camping area, during the practical application portion of their Mountain Warrior Exercise in training area Aspen Bowl at Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, Calif., March 2.

Photo by Cpl. Nicole A. LaVine

Snow place like home; 3/4 and RCT-7 change scenery, prep for war

23 Feb 2009 | Cpl. Nicole A. LaVine

Marines and sailors of 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, and Regimental Combat Team 7 out of the Combat Center began the practical application portion during their first week of the Mountain Warrior Exercise training package at Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, Calif., Feb. 23.

Before strapping on their packs and stepping off to Aspen Bowl, the unit’s first practical application training area, Marines and sailors of Companies I, K, L and Weapons Company of 3/4, and RCT-7 first had to learn the basics of winter survival and mobility during the two-week course. 

“While the units are here, they learn how to move while wearing snow shoes, how to conduct patrols and how to be tactical in the snow,” said Sgt. Nicholas Strowmatt, a Unit Training Group instructor at MWTC.

Throughout the first day of the practical application, or “track plans” as the instructors call them, Marines and sailors plotted path courses where they would always enter and leave their bivouac, or camp areas. Track plans are used to reduce the extent of foot prints in the snow and to ease mobility, said the Kailua, Hawaii, native.

Students first spend time in the classroom learning survival techniques for winter and complex, compartmentalized terrain and highly elevated and bottle-necked environments before applying it in the field, Strowmatt added.

Survival in complex, compartmentalized terrain involves knowledge of how to layer clothing and stay dry. To survive, Marines and sailors learn to identify avalanche-prone terrain, build field expedient snow shelters and fires, and treat cold weather injuries and high altitude illnesses, Strowmatt said.

“This is great training,” said 1st Lt. Christopher M. Doty, the mortar platoon commander of Weapons Company, while he shoveled snow with his fellow Marines. “It’s good to get the Marines out of their comfortable elements, out of the desert, off flat ground, and into complex, mountainous terrain so you can see who can perform under certain circumstances. Not only is this essential to the success of the Marine Corps in Afghanistan, but also to the success of the nation.”

Sgt. Steven Ross, a field radio operator with RCT-7, was fortunate enough to have trained at MWTC for the Mountain Command and Control Communication Course in January. He said he believes no amount of simulated mountain training could prepare warfighters like the training at MWTC.

“Simulation just isn’t enough,” said Ross, a Baton Rouge, La., native. “The snow and high altitude here changes everything. They don’t have those things anywhere but here and overseas.”
Petty Officer 3rd Class Trey Gregory, the assistant lead petty officer corpsman with RCT-7, agreed about the environmental conditions.

“Being here puts in you in a different mindset,” said Gregory, an Albuquerque, N.M., native. “In this kind of setting, you are constantly uncomfortable from being cold or wet. That can decrease morale and efficiency, so we do our best to cheer each other up. But the Marines Corps is supposed to be able to adapt anywhere, and this is what Afghanistan will be like.”

Sgt. Maj. Michael Kufchak, the 7th Marines’ regimental sergeant major, said training in higher elevations and in conditions similar to those found in land-locked, elevated countries like Afghanistan, is not typical for Marines.

“This training is about going above and beyond sustainment training in the instance we do deploy to Afghanistan,” said Kufchak, a Youngstown, Ohio, native.

Although this is the sixth winter package Kufchak has undergone in his Marine Corps career, he said he has learned something different from all of them. The environmental conditions were different and so where the individual experiences with the Marines and sailors, he said.

Both units expect to continue training at MWTC into the middle of March, and then are scheduled to return to the Combat Center to continue preparing for future deployments.

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