MOUNTAIN WARFARE TRAINING CENTER, BRIDGEPORT, Calif. --
Marines from 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, graduated from scout skier training conducted at the Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Calif., April 10.
Staff Sgt. Richard Sweetman, a scout skier chief with MWTC and native of Bremerton, Wash., said the 21-day course teaches Marines how to serve as scouts for their company or battalion.
“Scout skiers fall under the command of mountain leaders, which are usually sergeants, staff sergeants, lieutenants and captains,” Sweetman said. “The scout skiers themselves are usually private first classes to first lieutenants. All of these Marines together pave the way for the battalion by surveying the area, for whatever the mission at hand is.”
Sweetman said the instructors focus on teaching Marines to select routes that avoid avalanches and set up over watch for mountain movements. They conducted avalanche training, how to rescue an avalanche victim, set and prevent ambushes and conduct site survey for patrol bases in snow-covered environments through deception and concealment.
“The stress is to teach them over-the-snow mobility, like how to ski and use snow shoes, and route selections,” Sweetman said. “What they learn is not normal land navigation. They need to know why they pick certain routes, how long it will take and how many breaks they will need. The key for them is to get there and be able to fight once they arrive.”
The Island Warriors were chosen for training according to their physical fitness test scores.
“Marines are welcome to volunteer,” Sweetman said. “But because of the altitude and the loads they have to carry, they need to score a first class PFT, unadjusted for age or altitude.”
The scout skiers train at altitudes averaging 9,000 feet, with packs weighing between 25 and 80 pounds.
Lance Cpl. Vincent DeLuca, a team leader for third platoon, Echo Company, and native of Pensacola, Fla., said the training has been hard, especially going up hill with the weight they carry.
“When you have an 80-pound pack on, it’s hard to walk, period,” DeLuca said. “Then you add in sinking into the snow and moving a certain way with skis on, it’s even more difficult. But practicing helps, and talking to the other guys in my company helps since we are all going through this together.”
DeLuca said the training has been beneficial, especially for future deployments.
“If we enter a war with a mountainous environment, our job as scout skiers is to go out in the mountains in front of the battalion and set up their best route,” DeLuca said. “We go up and provide over watch, similar to what guardian angels do.”
Lance Cpl. Joseph DeMarco, a team leader for first platoon, Echo Co., and native of Lincoln Park, N.J., said skiing with a tactical mindset has been difficult, due to always moving and remaining quiet.
“We are trying to do our job, which is patrolling or setting up an ambush, and skiing interferes,” DeMarco said. “But snow is so much easier to dig in than dirt. As far as using this training in the future, I think our battalion can use us to their advantage. From the mountains, we can provide information on terrain and enemy positions.”
Pfc. Eli DeograciaTorres, a radio operator with Headquarters and Service Company and native of College Park, Md., said the best part was the instructors’ training style.
“The instructors wouldn’t try to hold our hands through the training,” DeograciaTorres said. “They would come to make sure we were doing well, but they trusted that we were doing our job.”
“We hit the requirement of any clime, any place,” Sweetman said. “People tend to shut down in mountain weather, and with these guys being trained here, they can rise up and be those leaders and get the mission accomplished. When they return to their unit, they will be the leaders when it comes to movements because of their drive and morale. They will feel it, too.”