Journey Through the Snow (Part 3)

Marines and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force soldiers practice cross-country skiing at the Yausubetsu Training Area, Hokkaido, Japan, March 5, during Exercise Forest Light 12-2. The Marines and JGSDF soldiers spent hours practicing different techniques taught by JGSDF ski instructors. The purpose of Forest Light 12-2 was to enhance the interoperability of Marines and JGSDF members while increasing individual and unit readiness in a cold-weather environment. Photo by 2ndLt Jeanscott Dodd.

MARINES BLOG (May 1, 2012) — Editors note: This is the third in a three-part series written from the perspective of a combat correspondent new to cold weather and high altitude training.

On the last leg of our training, we had to leave Grouse Meadows and head up to Summit, almost 1,000 feet higher in elevation. We filled in the trenches and holes where our tents used to sit, packed up our gear and headed out.

The hike to Summit was nothing like the initial hike at the beginning of Basic Mobility. The entire movement was in the snow and the higher we went, the deeper the snow became. We had our snow shoes on the entire time.

A few times, during the steeper mountains we scaled, I almost tilted over, hurling back down the mountain, my main pack firmly still attached to my back.

But we finally reached our destination.

I wasn't with Fox Company the last time they dug in, so I was curious to see how they built such well-structured trenches and living areas. I soon found out their secret – simple hard work.

Digging-in was much harder than filling the trenches with already broken pieces of ice and snow. By the end of the day, my back hurt, and I couldn't wait to lie down. But I couldn't. I had to make some "snow soup" to quench my thirst and reserve for the next day's activities.

Next game – They took away our tents, and we now only had our tent flys, a white cover that we put over the main body of the tents. There was no lining between me and the ground, so I expected to be freezing. Strangely, it was one of the warmest nights I had experienced so far.

The days were much the same: melting snow for water in the evenings, training in the daytime. But, the schedule was switched up on our second to last day.

After two nights, we filled in our trenches before another move. This time it was only a few clicks, across another open field. It wasn't a hard move, comparatively speaking.

That morning, we staged our gear near the future encampment and went cross-country skiing. What awaited us at the end of the trip was something much more interesting than slushing across the ice in a single file line, staring intently at either the snow or the guy in front of your head.

The red hat instructors taught us other methods to transport Marines involving a long piece of rope and a foreign-made, tracked all-terrain vehicle called a Bandvagn 206, or BV for short. The BV pulled Marines on skis, who tied their ski poles to the rope hanging behind the two-compartment craft.

Only a few Marines were actually able to try it. The rest watched, waiting for someone to face-plant in the snow. Only one did, who will not be named only for concern for my personal safety.

We paid for our merriment though, and the rest of our evening was spent digging. Still without our tents, we constructed "snow coffins."

I was paired up with an infantryman who was shorter than me, so we built our hole to my height, which is two isomats wide, scientifically speaking. We made it as shallow as possible. "The smaller the hole, the warmer you are," I remembered one of the instructors saying.

We placed a water-resistant poncho beneath and on top the hole. Each Marine pair built theirs differently. We were told our imaginations were our only limitations. In that case, I imagine we should have snuck inside the BV and saved our time for making snow soup.

By the end of our efforts, though, I was proud of the "coffin" we had built. I worked hard on it, thinking it might actually be my final resting place. It seemed near impossible to sleep in actual snow overnight and not be a person-shaped, life-size popsicle in the morning.

Once again, I was wrong. I thought our tent flys contraption was warm. I was wrong. This really was the warmest I'd been since sleeping in the temperature-controlled squadbays in mainside. I don't understand the science of it, even though it was explained. All I know is that it works.

Our final night out, Fox Company held a bonfire. Not for fun of course, but mostly to dry us off after digging our sleeping holes. Marines gathered around the warm, crackling flames like flies to one of those electric bug zappers.

One guy sang "The Circle of Life" from The Lion King movie, and others told hilarious stories I cannot repeat in a polite, public forum. Before heading to bed, and I now use the term in the loosest sense of the word, an officer began to recite a few passages from the book, "The Last Stand of Fox Company."

And tucked in here, high in the mountains, hidden by snow and lines of tall, darkened evergreen pines, was something special. Here was brotherhood and here was family. Even for a POG like me, amongst the grunts.


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