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Sgt. Nicholas Strowmatt, an instructor with the Unit Training Group at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, Calif., gives guidance to Marines with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, on building proper snow shelters at training area Penguin March 12.

Photo by Cpl. Nicole A. LaVine

UTG plays crucial role in combat success

12 Mar 2009 | Cpl. Nicole A. LaVine

The mission of the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, Calif., is unique compared to other Marine Corps installations and training centers. Its mission is to conduct unit and individual training courses to prepare Marines, joint, and allied forces for operations in mountainous, high altitude, and cold weather environments in support of the regional combatant commanders.

This mission, like the rest of the missions in the Marine Corps, is carried out by the individual Marines and sailors who oversee the training and preparation of their fellow warfighters. 

The Unit Training Group is responsible for taking on all unit-based training that takes place at MWTC to prepare Marines and sailors for combat in mountainous countries like Afghanistan, said Sgt. Raymond E. Carnwright, a team leader with UTG.

While training at MWTC, units can expect to learn about basics such as mountain weather and conditions, mountain communication, mountain safety, snow mobility and tactics, avalanche awareness, survival techniques and navigation, building shelters, treatment of cold weather and high altitude illnesses and injuries and layering clothing the correct way.

Col. Norman L. Cooling, the commanding officer of MWTC, said there has been an increase in also training units in communicating and sustaining forces over broad expanses of complex, compartmentalized terrain and in aggregating units from distributed security positions to address conventional threats.

Service members who do not come to train at MWTC for a unit package still learn this material through MWTC formal schools ranging from the animal packers course to the advanced scout sniper course.

Capt. Lance W. Seiffert, the officer-in-charge of the instructor cadre, said each unit first begins training at MWTC in the classroom, learning about how the harsh environment affects many combat elements like weapon systems, casualty evacuation drills, and tactics, techniques and procedures.

“Marines receive progressive exposure to the cold weather environment and the many challenges it provides,” Seiffert said. “Short term goals include being able to comfortably operate in this environment while planning and executing realistic rates of travel based on available equipment, weight carried, and the experience level of the Marines.”

Sgt. Eric Akey, a UTG instructor, said he believes the training units and individual service members receive at MWTC will be paramount in their success in country.

“The war on terror has changed atmosphere severely with going from Iraq to Afghanistan,” said Akey, an Auburn, Ind., native. “Marines must have a great understanding of the climate and ground they are operating in.  The enemy has such a better understanding of how to operate in mountains, and now MWTC is trying to overcome that by making mountain leaders, mountain docs, mountain communications experts, and individual mountain unit leaders.”

The terrain at MWTC may reach as high as 11,500 feet and temperatures can plummet to negative 25 degrees, demanding much physical and mental fortitude for those in training, Akey said.

“No where else in the Marine Corps can you find such extreme conditions that challenge the body and mind to levels unknown,” he said.

Sgt. Bradley L. Kramer, a fellow UTG instructor, said success in combat involves more than becoming familiar with the harsh mountain environment.

“Marines cannot successfully fight in compartmentalized terrain until they have learned successfully how to survive and move in it,” said the Saline, Mich., native. “We teach units what they need in order to do those things. This training makes the Marines more likely to get off the roads and take the fight to the enemy.”

Carnwright said he has done his time in Afghanistan and said he believes MWTC has the proper elements to fully prepare service members for mountainous combat. 

“I have been to Afghanistan and the terrain sucks,” said Carnwright, a Bassett, Va., native. “This place is perfect for the Marine corps to train. Everyone knows that our mission is changing and we need to be ready to fight in any environment.”

Cooling said since there is such a vast variety of terrain Marines can expect to operate in, conditions at MWTC can best prepare those warriors for sustainment, mobility and communication in any environment due to its high difficulty.

As the instructors of UTG continue to pull through early mornings and cold weather, they also pull their fellow service members closer to success in future deployments.

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