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Home : News : News Features
NEWS | Jan. 11, 2016

Vermont's Catamounts return to their mountainous roots

By Sgt. Heidi Kroll 172nd Public Affairs Detachment

JERICHO, Vt. - The Catamounts (A Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry) are returning to the mountain in Jericho, Vermont. The unit is called the Catamounts for the tavern where the Green Mountain Boys would meet during the Revolutionary war with Ethan Allen, as well as the Catamount otherwise known as the Mountain lion, which is a versatile predator in a mountainous environment.

The training on this drill weekend focused on the walk phase of many basic mountaineering skills preparing them for an advanced weekend where the Soldiers will ski to the Notch on Smugglers Notch. Cold weather mobility mountaineering skills, such as bivouacking, basic ski fundamentals and steep snow traversing, are practiced.

"First and foremost the Catamounts are a tightly knit unit, the first thing that happens when a Soldier comes to the unit they can sense, we are part of something different," said Capt. Nathan Fry, company commander. "We really work hard on building team spirit, empowering the Soldier to share knowledge across levels."

Bivouacs was the first part of the drill weekend. The Soldiers dragged the sled-based tent system "Akhio" to a location where they would spend the night. The tent system should take 15 minutes to set up. Today the more experienced Soldiers took time to cross train other Soldiers in this skill on this relatively warm day.

"It is easier to learn skills on a day like today when it is rather warm, than on a -30 day with the wind blowing," said Sgt. Jeff Deslauriers, infantryman. "Teaching the guys who have never seen the Akhio tent systems that you can survive in some extremely cold temperatures with the gear we have."

Sgt. Sean Fernandez, infantryman, said "Skiing is a very important mobility skill, it is another mode of transportation in a mountainous environment."

This is the second time the Catamounts have come to Bolton Valley Ski Resort. Groomed snow training gets the Soldiers ready for skiing on ungroomed terrain. "Pizza" could be heard being yelled down the mountain, which is another description of skiing in a snow plow position, which enables skiers to slow down or make turns. Pvt. Patrick Morris, infantryman, worked with other Soldiers, several who outranked him, teaching them basic skiing techniques. This advice demonstrated how to control speed, where to put their hands and how to properly use ski poles.

"It's intimidating to teach higher-ranking Soldiers, it is more important to teach fellow Soldiers critical skills that are needed to accomplish the mission," Morris said.

Cross training during down time helps widen the knowledge base across the unit.

"Sharing information is critical; no matter what rank you, are you should speak up and share beneficial information with the unit," said Capt. Kevin Elmer, logistics officer.

Sgt. 1st Class Timothy McLaughlin, infantryman, 2nd Platoon, worked with his Soldiers on steep snow traversing, which taught Soldiers how to use an ice ax to slow a decent on an ice-covered mountain. This involves rolling over and slamming the ice ax into the ground to stop their accelerated decent. He also taught the Soldiers how to descend a snow, ice and rock-covered hill.

"This training is critical to our ability to operate as a mountain unit," said Deslauriers. "Soldiers are asking for the mountaineering training, they are hungry for cold weather training, they are aggressive to learn."

"Alpha Company is tasked with operating in a mountainous environment during the winter as well as summer - we are going back to our mountaineering roots," said Fry.

The return of the Catamounts to the Vermont mountains is revitalizing the mountaineering skills the unit is legendary for, a unit that will be versatile in any mountainous environment.

The training this weekend will be followed up in February with a step back in time to other mountaineering roots with biathlon training, a shoot and move drill on skis which dates back to the Green Mountain Boys. The culmination of this training that started in December will be when the unit bivouacs to the Notch in March.