By Army Sgt. Nathan Rivard
Vermont Army National Guard
JAY PEAK, Vt. (1/31/13) - When some skiers started heading down the mountain to end their day on the slopes, the mountain Soldiers of the Vermont Army National Guard’s Troop A, 1st Squadron, 172nd Cavalry Regiment were just getting theirs started. The Soldiers recently tested their resiliency with cold weather and mountaineering training here with temperatures below freezing and steadily falling.
“We are the premiere mountain organization in the (Army National) Guard, so it’s one of our primary missions to operate in the mountainous terrain, especially in the cold weather environment,’’ said Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Progen, a platoon sergeant with Troop A.
The weather on the frozen mountain would show how well the Soldiers could operate as a scout unit in harsh winter conditions. When the Soldiers arrived at the top of the peak, they put on snowshoes or crampons--an attachment for the boot with metal spurs that allow for better traction-- for the decent down the mountain towards their objectives.
Many of the tasks the Soldiers focused on were ones they would be evaluated on this summer as part of a training exercise at Fort Drum, N.Y., said Army Capt. Matt Wignall, commander of Troop A. “So we are out here focusing on platoon-level training doing a zone recon, area recon, and emplacing a platoon-level screen line,” he said.
The terrain of Jay Peak makes it both realistic and challenging.
“This is some of the most challenging terrain,” said Wignall. “I mean it’s terrain on par with stuff you’d see in Afghanistan, and you throw in the cold weather and snow aspect and it just complicates it and it makes that reconnaissance mission just that much harder. So teaching the guys to survive these conditions and to thrive in these conditions and maintain the upper hand on the enemy by being the organization better suited for this environment really does it for us.”
Jay Peak has had roughly 13 feet of snowfall so far this winter with a foot of snow falling a few days before the training. The high amounts of snow, an elevation more than 3,700 feet, cold temperatures, and extreme wind added in additional challenges to the mountain survival training.
And the scouts still had a job to do.
“Scouts are going to be (reporting on the ability to move along) some of the routes, which are some of the ski trails here on the mountain,” said Wignall. “They’ve got a few key checkpoints that they are going to report (on) enemy activity and they will have the ability to maneuver other forces through this terrain, really the bread and butter of what a reconnaissance unit does.”
To most of the Soldiers the weather didn’t faze them, and some even preferred it.
“I would do extreme cold,” said Army Pfc. Chad Carpenter. “We fight like we train, or train like we fight rather. I like to be in a higher elevation, colder, better prepared.”
The Soldiers carried out their missions and spent the night in the winter environment with nothing more than what they carried on their backs.
“I like just operating and finding all the formations we have to do at different levels,” said Carpenter. “I love that kind of stuff, just working on the platoon level.”