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NEWS | Jan. 26, 2022

Massachusetts Guard, first responders train in ‘ice bath’

By Capt. Andrew Layton, Michigan National Guard

GRAYLING, Mich. – Members of the 20th Special Forces Group, Massachusetts Army National Guard, conducted hypothermia training with Michigan first responders Jan. 24 at Lake Margrethe.

The event was part of Northern Strike 22-1 (” Winter Strike”), an exercise sponsored by the National Guard Bureau Jan. 21-30 with participants from several states and partner nations at Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center and Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center.

“This rigorous training scenario instills the skill and mental tenacity required to survive one of the most dangerous scenarios posed by arctic conditions: full submersion into a frozen lake,” said Scott Martzke, emergency management program coordinator for the Michigan Army National Guard. “This event also spotlights the vital importance of emergency management programs and the ability for emergency managers from multiple agencies to work together and support agency planning, training and exercise needs.”

During the two-hour training, participants plunged into the icy lake and remained in the water to control their breathing and focus before getting out by themselves. Participants then moved to the shore, where they began post-exposure procedures to prevent injury. These included the application of cold-weather gear and techniques to manage body heat and sweat.

“This Northern Strike ice training was a unique opportunity for our divers and ice rescue personnel to participate in extreme cold-weather training, to share information and experience, and to learn and coordinate efforts in a rare collaboration of specialists,” said Benjamin Lowe, Roscommon County undersheriff.

Survival and winter warfare instructors from the U.S. Army and the Swedish Air Force observed the training. 

“The ‘ice bath’ training was a great opportunity for the Northern Michigan Mutual Dive Teams to come together for a training scenario,” said Lt. Chris Oosse of the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Office. “The training gives us an understanding of each team’s manpower, equipment and capabilities. We are proud to share our cold weather rescue and survival knowledge and experience with our military forces.”

Deputy John Yax of the Muskegon County Sheriff’s Office said the training was invaluable. 

“The training exposed the first responders to the way a person reacts during a cold water submersion and the initial cold shock effects,” Yax said. “Our ice instructors will be able to take this knowledge forward when they teach and train in the future. The training was also a perfect platform to share and build cooperation and teamwork strategies between multiple agencies.”

Doug Pratt, Crawford County emergency management director, agreed.

“Trainings such as these prepare participants to safely and effectively respond to rescue and recovery incidents on and through the ice, as well as in, on and around cold water, “Pratt said.

“We’ve never done anything like this in these conditions at Camp Grayling before, with participants from the military and our local emergency management services working together for mutual benefit,” said U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Lee Fuller, Northern Strike safety director. “The ‘ice bath’ event is a true win-win because it enhances both military readiness and the National All-Domain Warfighting Center’s connection to our surrounding communities.”