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1st Lt. Ross Pospisil, platoon commander, Company A, 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, skis up a mountain pass near the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center's skylift training area April 2. Pospisil conducted land navigation during the Winter Mountain Leaders Course. Graduates of the course will become Mountain Warfare Combat Instructor certified and be an assest to their commanding officer.

Photo by Cpl. William J. Jackson

Pushing Limits: Elevation, skis humble leaders

12 Apr 2013 | Cpl. William J. Jackson

Marines with the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center’s Winter Mountain Leaders Course 2-13 in Bridgeport, Calif., conducted a land navigation exercise near the ski-lift training area April 2.

The WMLC is designed to train Marines to become subject matter experts in cold weather operations.  The winter mountain operations teach Marines to conduct enhanced movement, control of fires, intelligence gathering, sustainment and force protection in complex snow and ice covered terrain.

“The Marines are constantly moving, learning and dealing with the elements,” said Staff Sgt. Keola Lee, chief instructor, Mountain Leaders Course. “Everybody gets humbled out here.”

The 25 students, from corporal to captain, geared up on skis and began traversing the terrain to find eight-digit grid coordinates given to them by their instructors. The students are training to be advisors to a commanding officer and his staff whenever their unit is deployed in snowy mountainous terrain.

“If you look at the map, multiple countries have mountainous terrain and those passes are often used as ship to shore (movements),” said Sgt. Warren Sparks, Mountain Warfare Combat Instructor. “If we had to move troops to some areas, we have to be capable to push in and move in cold weather and mountainous environment.”

As the students, in fire team sized elements, skated through the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest finding grid points, they reached more than 9,000 feet of elevation.

The six week training program also gives the Marines the ability to live in a winter environment, plan routes and identify hazards like avalanche zones or creek snow covered creek beds.

“Most of these guys will be embedded in an infantry battalion,” Sparks said. “Within their companies they will be advisors to their commanding officer. That’s one of the biggest things they bring out to the fight.

WMLC graduates become experts in cold weather environments. Once they are with their units they can teach their Marines how to pack correctly, take care of their feet and hands and guide them on calorie intake.

“What’s most important is the ability to move, assess hazards and be able to train those below you and around you about dealing with the elements,” Sparks said. “They’ve been out here going on nine days. Their feet are pretty beat up. They’ve been making a lot of movements and they’re carrying a lot of gear.”

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