JERICHO, Vt. --
Among the mountainous Vermont terrain, where temperatures drop below zero, the ground freezes over and snow piles up, Marines are pushed to their limits as they battle the intense winter elements.
It’s a challenge that Marines with 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, are facing as they participate in the two-week exercise Nordic Frost at Camp Ethan Allan Training Site in Jericho, Vermont, Jan. 2-15, 2016. The exercise helps the Marines gain a better understanding of how their gear operates in the cold to ensure physical and mental readiness in potential future operations.
“The likelihood of us deploying to a cold-weather environment is very little,” said Master Sgt. Eduardo Hernandez, battalion operations chief, Headquarters and Service Company, 3/25. “However, the training is building the Marine’s confidence so they will be ready if the call ever comes.”
Cold weather is no stranger to the Marines of 3/25. In April 2016, they participated in exercise Artic Eagle at Camp Grayling, Michigan, to get a taste of how operations differ in an austere environment. The Marines utilized their prior experience in cold weather and stressed the importance of small-unit leadership while participating in the exercise for the first time.
“Operating in a cold-weather environment requires teamwork, nobody can do this by themselves,” said Maj. Timothy R. Newkirk, operations officer for exercise Nordic Frost. “It requires involved and intrusive leadership, and it’s a good opportunity for our squad leaders and noncommissioned officers to step up.”
With hundreds of junior Marines present at the exercise, NCOs play a large role in fueling their motivation to keep training, especially when temperatures drop below zero.
“Junior Marines tend to recess back in to their shell, synch down and let the cold affect them” said Cpl. Jonathan C. Sherrard, assaultman section leader, Company K, 3/25. “As an NCO, it’s our job to teach them how to successfully operate in the most uncomfortable situations.”
Cold weather adds additional training dynamics to standard operating procedures. Leadership, down to the lowest ranking Marine, becomes paramount to ensure safety and troop welfare.
“When you are surviving in the cold you need to make sure you have things like proper layers and supplies,” said Sherrard. “You need to make sure Marines aren’t wearing their layers on humps, that they are changing their layers and socks. You need to make sure they have water, enough fuel to make water, and make sure that different aspects are in play. That comes directly down to small-unit leadership.”
Operating equipment in extreme winter weather also produces additional logistical challenges. Unstable firing platforms, poor road conditions, foot movement difficulties and vehicle breakdowns are all issues Marines have encountered in the training cycle.
By firing weapons such as the M240 and .50 caliber machine guns, sending 81mm mortar rounds down range, detonating fence and doughnut charges, and operating Humvees, Marines have the opportunity to re-familiarize themselves with their equipment and understand how the climate affects operability.
“Being Reserve Marines, we don’t get to see much trigger time, so this is our best opportunity to understand everything and how it works,” said Lance Cpl. Kyle A. Johnson, machine gunner, Company I, 3/25. “If you can do it in the cold with these freezing temperatures, then you are going to do great when the temperatures are ideal.”
With the presence of intimidating winter weather, the Marines must trust in their equipment and gear. From the weapons to the warming layers, they understand they can train and fight in any clime or place.
“The training here has confirmed that the equipment we provide Marines for cold weather is effective, and that operating in the cold is not something to fear,” said Newkirk. “By spending time in the training areas and applying the proper techniques we have been taught, our ability to function has been validated. The Marines have confidence they can operate when it gets cold.”
Early in the training evolution, Brig. Gen. Paul K. Lebidine, commanding general of 4th MarDiv, visited the Marines staying in the field. He checked on troop welfare, answered questions, and offered some motivation as the weather began to take a mental toll.
“What could get better than this,” said Lebidine. “One day, you’re going to wake up, and all this is going to be over. You’re going to look back at these moments and remember what you went through and how it shaped you. Trust me, enjoy this while it lasts.”
As they move into the final phase of the exercise, Marines of 3/25 will continue to enhance their readiness by conducting land navigation courses and improving infantry squad skills. The training helps ensure that Reserve Marines are ready to fight tonight and respond to the nation’s calls.