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Twentynine Palms, California
Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command and Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center
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Headquarters and Services Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Marines take a pre-environmental training class at Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center April 2, 2012. Field classes familiarize the Marines with their new environment.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Ali Azimi

Journey through Snow (part 2)

13 Apr 2012 | Lance Cpl. Ali Azimi Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

Editors note: This is the second of a three-part series written from the perspective of a combat correspondent new to cold weather and high altitude training

Our first few days were spent acclimating to the elevation. I had a really bad headache the entire first day. I talked to a hospital corpsman, also known as “doc,” about it. Apparently my brain was expanding because of the decrease in air pressure.

The third day here, it snowed. Everything was covered in a thick blanket of white powder.

The snow melted by the next day. It showed us how quickly the weather can change up here.

I thought I would be hearing Marines complaining about it left and right, but instead most were laughing about it or making jokes. Talk about Marine Corps spirit.

We spent our acclimation period doing hikes and taking environmental training classes up in the mountains. All this led up to our first day in the field.

I hiked up to Summit Meadows with Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, the hardest hike I have ever been on. We carried a full combat load, plus snow gear and weapons.

At first, everyone was excited to get to the snowy hilltops. The beginning was all dirt and actually hot.

We were climbing 9,300 ft above sea level. We didn’t hit snow until 8,000 ft.

By that point I was exhausted. All that went through my head was “right foot, left foot, right foot…”  This was worse than the Reaper at recruit training. West Coast Marines always brag about the Reaper. Well now 2/7 Marines can brag about Bridgeport. And so can I.

After the 8,000-ft. mark, the surrounding area was snowy and the trail a combination of mud and ice. Each step held the potential of a fall.

Thankfully we stopped to put our snow shoes on. With the teeth at the bottom of the shoe gripping the slick surface beneath us, the only thing we had to worry about was making it to the top.

Eventually, we made it to Summit Meadows.

I spent the night with Golf Company before I was transferred to Fox Company at Grouse Meadows.

The Marines of Fox Company had developed an intricate system of trenches in between their tent areas for faster movement through the deep snow.

Their defensive positions were set behind a treeline. When I first arrived, I didn’t see it right away. It took me a minute before I spotted a tent hiding behind the towering trees.

My first day with Co. F, I went out to see a medical evacuation. In the middle of the untouched snow stood a helicopter with Army written on the side. Surrounding it was a crowd of Marines, some from Fox Company, the majority from Weapons Company.

The soldiers gave a quick run-through of the procedures before letting some of the Marines do it themselves.

The helo blasted particles of ice from the ground into my face. It was hard to keep watching, but we all did. How often do you get a chance to see a helo lift off with a hurricane of snow beneath it?

Most days in the field consisted of skiing and melting snow for water, with class on anchoring or avalanche training in between. But everything was taught in the snow.

Melting snow made me appreciate the ready supply of water at Twentynine Palms. It took a long time to melt a small amount. And even when you did, there were small particles in there that gave the water a piney taste.

I tried to get use to the taste. That didn’t work. I looked around and saw Marines using t-shirts to filter out the particles as they poured the boiled water into their Nalgene bottles. The particles were gone, but the taste was still there.

The skiing sounded like fun. I went out thinking it would be an easy day. I didn’t know how hard it was to ski. I ate snow on a daily basis. I guess that’s faster than trying to melt it.

The weather was always cold. In the mornings, I didn’t want to leave my tent. At night I couldn’t wait to get in my happy suit.

There were a couple of hours of warmth in the afternoon, but as it passed, the chill set in.

Four days after arriving at Grouse Meadows, we packed backup and headed back up to Summit Meadows.

Word from the lance corporal underground said that we would have our tents taken away and forced to make ice shelters. I am convinced I will freeze to death.

Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms