BARDUFOSS, Norway -- The Marine Corps’ small size and integrated capacity allows the smallest organization of the U.S. Armed Forces the ability to lead as the nation’s crisis response force while supporting contingency operations in every clime and place. During Cold Response 14, an emphasis was put on extreme cold-weather training to bring Marines back to the basics of their legendary capability; being able to adapt to any situation and operate in every austere environment while maintaining their proven partnerships in the European theater.
The past decade of Overseas Contingency Operations often meant desert environments, like Iraq or Afghanistan where Marines adapted to the climate of arid deserts and mountainous terrain. Cold weather wasn’t unfamiliar to Marines deployed to Afghanistan but still a great contrast to the arctic conditions during this exercise.
“Typically, we would be training in the desert; that’s the mindset we need to get away from and train in austere environments we are not used to,” said First Sergeant Clayton G. Pettus, supporting CDR-14 with 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment.
Cold Response 14 brings together Marines from U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa and 2nd Marine Division, to include 2/2, 2nd Supply Battalion, and 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion to train in high-intensity cold-weather operations above the Arctic Circle.
“[Arctic training] is an art that we’ve lost and we have to get back to our basics and be able to operate everywhere,” he added.
The Marines from 2nd Marine Division prepared for the extreme cold-weather in Bridgeport, Calif., but the unpredictable climate of the coastal-mountainsides of northern Norway created a unique environment that Marines had to adapt to when temperatures barely dropped under the freezing point, 32-degrees Fahrenheit, and caused more wind-infused rain than snow. Marines had to adapt to not only being cold, but having to stay dry during the exercise.
“These are things we don’t tend to worry about on a day-to-day basis; these are things we have to practice in a real environment because, if you don’t, Marines can get hurt,” said Petus.
For the three-week exercise, the unpredictability of the weather, from rain to sleet, snowy and cloudy to windy and sunny, tested the integration of the international of coalition during the exercise.
“There are a lot of [obstacles] when 16,000 troops are in an exercise and the weather has been the most effective obstacle for training,” said Norwegian Lt. Col. Terje Bruoygard, the spokesperson for the Norwegian Haeren (Army.)
“I’m impressed by the international units’ ability to cooperate and do their combat-operations training in these extreme weather conditions,” he added.
Cold-weather training wasn’t the sole focus of the exercise, with emphasis on operating as a multinational force. Many nations were fully integrated during the exercise, with the majority of servicemembers from Norway, Sweden, France, The Netherlands, Canada, Germany and the U.S.
“We pick up good things from all our partners because we are a small military force and we need to constantly evolve and constantly adapt our combat skills,” Bruoygard said.
Norway’s small size brings similarities to the Marine Corps, as the need to integrate combined-arms tactics creates understanding in operational procedures, said Bruoygard.
“The U.S. Marine Corps, in my view, has the fore-most combat fighting force with incredible records,” said Bruoygard.
“We look to your combat skills as role models, especially the way you think of the combined arms, integrated planning and warrior spirit.”
During the exercise, international cooperation was integral to tactical-level training, with many nations making up different elements of Cold Response, to include: a Swedish-led Multinational Brigade comprised of more than five countries; simulated opposition forces augmented by British and French units; amphibious and maritime assets provided by a Dutch vessel; and Norwegian, Canadian and Swedish tanks platoons.
Moving as a single unit along the coastal village roads through the fjords of northern Norway, the less-than-battalion size 2/2 Marines were fully integrated with Norwegian soldiers driving the Bandvagn 206, a belted-wheeled all-terrain carrier commonly used by partner nations. The natives of Norway were the key to helping Marines learn the basics of surviving in the cold.
“If you’re going into an extreme environment, such as an arctic environment, you’re going to need partner support and it’s important for us to work well with others,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jack Roe, a mountain leader from 2/2 participating in Cold Response 14.
Prior to the exercise, Roe went to train with Dutch partners in the Netherlands to exchange cold-weather tactics and techniques, to include a three-week arctic survival training course followed by three-weeks of cold-weather field operations. During the course, Roe had the opportunity to exchange and gain knowledge on moving in winter environments; long-range movements on skis, snowshoes, build snow shelters and arctic tents and tactical play.
“[The Norwegians and the Dutch] have an experience level we don’t have and it’s important for us to work with them because when we actually go to this environment, we are going to need their help,” said Roe.
“The phrase ‘brilliance in the basics’ is a very important statement; we need to go back to our [cold-weather] roots,” said Roe, referring to the Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Calif., established by the Marine Corps in 1951 as a response to lessons-learned during the Korean War.
“We’ve gone ten years in Afghanistan and Iraq, where it’s hot and we have to get back to learning the basics and how to survive and get back to stuff we used to do,” said Roe.
Along with partner-nation integration and the naturally arctic climate, Cold Response 14 being conducted in Norway is indicative of the strategic friendships and military access that is provided with alliances and partnerships around the globe.
“We only have so much available in the U.S.,” said Roe.
“It’s a different environment at the MWTC and to be able to come up here to the arctic, it’s a different cold and different environment to survive in,” added the Longview, Texas, native.
“We work well with the Norwegians and we use our [shared] resources in our training environment; we wouldn’t have that availability without them,” said Roe.
Training for Cold Response 14 completed on March 21; the different languages, variants of tactical equipment and weapons, and myriad of camouflage marked the purpose of the exercise succinctly enough: many different nations with the same warrior spirit and a commitment to stability of the global-security environment.
“It’s an invitational exercise, so whoever wanted to join it would have been welcomed and I think that is a true statement towards [European] stability,” said Bruoygard.
“I think the world becomes a safer place when partners train together.”