By Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Britton, U.S. Special Operations Command Europe
KIRUNA, Sweden, April 2, 2018 — Editor’s note: The names of special operations forces members have been withheld due to security concerns.
There’s cold, and then there’s the cold that comes from being above the Arctic Circle -- so cold, in fact, that frostbite can occur within minutes on exposed skin.
However, it isn’t cold enough to prevent special operations forces from operating in the arctic environment.
Airmen assigned to the 352nd Special Operations Wing and Special Forces soldiers assigned to 10th Special Forces Group conducted a winter training course here from February to March 2018.
The training consisted of six weeks of realistic scenarios and classroom instruction.
“The course included classes and practical exercises on survival in a cold weather environment,” a participating airman said. “We also trained [on] movement on skis and snowshoes, advanced snowmobile movements and live-fire ranges. 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 another airman. “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,” according to another airman. “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 Arctic Conditions
Training in arctic conditions provides the U.S. and its partners the opportunity for future operations and strategic planning.
“The Arctic Circle holds strategic military, economic and geopolitical value,” an airman said. “The intent of our training is to support our European partners across all environments in [U.S. 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,” an airman said. “In the words of our partner forces, ‘In training, the enemy is simulated. The cold is real.’”