There’s cold and then there’s above the Arctic Circle cold. So cold that frostbite on exposed skin can occur within minutes. Not cold enough to stop special operations forces from operating in the environment.
U.S. Air Force Special Operations Forces assigned to the 352nd Special Operations Wing and U.S. Army Special Forces assigned to 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) conducted an Arctic Winter training course from February to March 2018.
The training consisted of realistic scenarios and classroom instruction that spanned the course of six weeks.
“The course included classes and practical exercises on survival in a cold weather environment,” said a USAF SOF operator. “We also trained movement on skiis and snowshoes, advanced snow mobile movements and live-fire ranges. In Special Tactics, we need to have the ability to employ and project global access, precision strike and personnel recovery across the globe, regardless of environment.”
Combined training and the exchange of information is critical for successful joint military operations.
“Our success relies on interoperability between U.S. and European forces,” said a USAF SOF operator. “We use common practices, but it is invaluable to integrate and train alongside our partners. This allows U.S. forces to gain credibility and build relationships that will continue during future engagements.”
The benefits of surviving and operating in the harsh conditions weren’t the only lessons learned from the course.
“Joint and combined training has been the most beneficial aspect of our trip to the Arctic,” said a USAF SOF operator. “We have learned several tactics, techniques and procedures and standard operating procedures that we have adopted and trained to. These lessons learned not only add to our survivability, but also increase the lethality of our forces.”
Training in the Arctic provides the U.S. and their partners the opportunity for future operations and strategic planning.
“The Arctic Circle holds strategic military, economic and geopolitical value,” said a USAF SOF operator. “The intent of our training is to support our European partners across all environments in [United States European Command]. The High North provides an opportunity for us to collaborate with partner nations in winter warfare exercises and learn from past and present experiences.”
The training in the unforgiving environment expanded the capabilities of the tactical teams and left them with a new-found respect for the cold.
“Training in the Arctic is a very humbling experience,” said a USAF SOF operator. “In the words of our partner forces, ‘In training, the enemy is simulated. The cold is real.’