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Participants Endure Frigid Cold at Alaska Training Event

By Amaani Lyle DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, February 19, 2015 — Participants and instructors braved sub-zero temperatures in the Cold Regions Military Mountaineering Collaborative Event held Feb. 9-12 in Black Rapids, Alaska.

Military officers from 12 nations sought to develop best practices at the Northern Warfare Training Center, where they compared warfare and survival tactics along the Arctic and subarctic landscape, said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Adam McQuiston, NWTC instructor.

“Surviving and fighting in Arctic and subarctic conditions is definitely challenging,” McQuiston said. The challenge, he added, requires an understanding of logistics, time, heat sources, equipment and the use of cold-weather clothing.

Intense Cold

McQuiston said newcomers to the training area typically comment on the intense cold.

The senior noncommissioned officer asserts that employing the right clothing, equipment and training ensures that participants will acclimate to the frigid environment.

“We teach how to properly use the clothing and equipment … tents, stoves, skis [and] snow shoes,” McQuiston said. “The No. 1 killer is the cold.”

People are hesitant to go outside when thermometers indicate daunting temperatures that can dip well into negative double-digits, he said.

“The temperature will say negative 20 … in their minds, they say, ‘There’s no way I can go outside right now,’” McQuiston said. “So you force them out there, get them in the right clothing and continue to make sure they have the right gloves on … [and] as long as they’re dressed correctly, they’ll survive.”

Danger of Frostbite

Even simple tasks like removing gloves can put a person at risk for developing frostbite, which occurs when the air and surface temperatures drop well below zero, McQuiston said.

“You’re doing a small task like putting on skis and snow shoes,” he explained, “so you take off your gloves and touch that cold metal … at [its temperature of] -40 [degrees Fahrenheit], you can easily get contact frostbite and your fingers will instantly turn white.”

However, the right knowledge, appropriate gear and a calm demeanor can enable a person to survive the frigid cold for days until a rescue team arrives, he said.

While members of the U.S. Army Alaska based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson comprise the largest portion of NWTC students, units worldwide have visited the center to train.

McQuiston said he traveled to Finland in January to attend a two-week cold weather operations course taught by Finnish defense forces.

“It’s important to work with these other countries so we can share these lessons learned,” McQuiston said. “[There are] very different techniques, but if we join them together we can definitely learn from each other and better ourselves.”

(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleDoDNews)