Ice-Breaker Drill Increases Mission Readiness

Ice-Breaker Drill Increases Mission Readiness

Cpl David McKenna, Winter Mountain Leaders Course 1-15, student, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, plunges into freezing water during an Ice-Breaker Drill as part of WMLC 1-15 at Levitt Lake, Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center training area in Bridgeport, Calif., Jan. 30, 2015. Photo by Cpl Charles Santamaria.

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. (Feb. 5, 2015) – Frigid wind blows across Levitt Lake as Marines gather on its frosted, glinting surface. At 9,000 feet, the temperature is well below freezing. With a pack on one shoulder and ski poles gripped tightly, a mountain leader steps onto the skis, sharply inhales the crisp air and prepares to take the plunge into the freezing water below.

Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Marines participated in an Ice-Breaker Drill during Winter Mountain Leaders Course 1-15, Jan. 30, 2015. The drill was conducted in the MCMWTC training area, to educate Marines on what they should do in the event that they should fall through the ice. Instructors, permanent personnel and students participated in the plunge. It's been approximately three years since the last training evolution of this kind was conducted.

"It's very important training, because it teaches the student how to extricate himself from the ice in the event that he should fall through, which helps build confidence," said SgtMaj Steven P. Brunner, MCMWTC Sergeant Major, native of St. Petersburg, Fla. "Most students have never fallen through the ice before but it doesn't mean that it can't happen." 

Two holes were cut into the frozen lake and at the edge of each hole was a pair of skis, ski poles and a five-gallon weighted pack. Each Marine slid in on the skis with the rest of the provided gear. Their objective was to get the pack out of the water then swim to the edge where they would be tested on their mental state while under the strain of the freezing water. Participants had to verbally request permission to exit the water. 

"When you jump in, you lose your breath, you kind of lose your head," said Sgt. Aaron Jensen, student, WMLC 1-15, native of Long Island, N.Y. "But you have a task to do and, as long as you complete each one, you don't really get caught up in how you feel."

Once participants got out of the lake they rolled in powdered snow to help get the excess water off their clothes. Participants then sprinted to the warming tents, where they stripped off their wet clothing and put on dry clothes to restore their body's normal temperature.

"There's really no such thing as an expert in this type of environment," Brunner said. "If you've never received this type of training, you won't know how you're going to react in that type of situation."

The six-week Mountain Leaders Course began Jan. 5 and ends Feb. 18. The course is designed to train Marines on what to expect in a cold-weather environment and tests their skills and knowledge through a variety of scenarios. 

Mountain leaders can take the knowledge gained from this experience and pass it on to the units training aboard MCMWTC.

"It validates what we do up here," Brunner said. "In my opinion, we are the premier war fighting organization in the [Department of Defense] when it comes to training at a high-altitude compartmentalized winter and summer mountainous environment." is the official website of the United States Marine Corps and is maintained by the Marine Corps' Division of Public Affairs.