Summer is fast approaching and no one deserves it more than the soldiers of the UK’s 5th Infantry Battalion RIFLES, several of whom shivered during a brutal 11-day cold-weather training program in Estonia in February.
As explained in a truly impressive three-minute NATO-produced video, the training aimed to expose British soldiers to the Winter War and give them confidence that they could withstand the cold with nothing more than l ‘equipment in their bergens, which is the British term for their large backpacks.
âSoldiers have to be exposed to the cold to learn they can warm themselves. They don’t need anyone’s help, âsaid Color Sgt. Keenan, the British equivalent of a US Navy gunnery sergeant. âThey will have cold hands, they will have cold toes, they will have jelly. But all of that can be dealt with in the field, and I think this training teaches these soldiers that down to the most basic levels. “
“Frostnip” is a mild form of cold injury that does not cause permanent skin damage, according to the Mayo Clinic. Frostbite, on the other hand, occurs when the skin becomes so cold that it is permanently damaged. But when Keenan says ‘most basic level’ you could say ‘deep in the bones:’ I felt a chill just watching the troops marching through deep snow and biting winds through thick Estonian forests, where temperatures can drop to 13 degrees. below zero.
“I don’t want to state the obvious, but it is very cold,” said a British soldier, laughing.
Even moving around is a challenge in these conditions.
“The snow was so hard to get through,” said another soldier between shots of his comrades’ boots sinking deep into the powder between the trees. “But everyone just literally dig deep for that.”
The advantage of moving is that it keeps your body warm. But part of the exercise was a 24-hour survival period where troops had to make it through the cold day and pitch black with nothing but the equipment they had.
“We have a limited kit, limited food, limited resources and we just have to survive for 24 hours,” said one soldier between shots of his colleagues building a shelter with sticks and sitting around a fire like some. Vikings in the dark ages. âThe shelter, the fire, the chicken and the veg, and that’s all we have. And the clothes we wear now.
In these cold conditions, pessimism can be just as harmful as the cold.
âYou don’t want to be cranky all day, because then you’ll make the other person cranky and then the next one,â said another soldier. “And then you’ll hear all the complaints, but you don’t want that in your little group.” “
And as if that wasn’t enough, the soldiers’ reward for surviving the survival period was a good, refreshing jump into the icy water of an icy lake. They then had to go out and warm up with just the material in their bergens. Watching the slow motion videos of them jumping and making the “I can’t smell my nuts” faces all I could think of was “them better than me”.
âThe way the body works is that when you start to get cold, it is all about protecting your vital organs,â said one soldier. “So right away the blood from your feet and hands will start to flow out and so your hands and feet will get cold and you just need to pump the blood out.”
Another example of weakness leaving the body, although of the frozen variety, is baptism with ice water, Keenan said.
“It only reinforces for them that they can operate in any environment, and especially in winter, in the Baltic States when things get really tough, using only the clothes and equipment they have available.” , did he declare.
Of course, British troops aren’t the only ones getting cold weather training these days. In fact, preparing to respond to arctic conditions is one of the primary goals of the U.S. military as it prepares to fight Russia and China in potential conflict. For example, the Air Force has a so-called Cool School near Alaska’s northernmost point where Air Force survival specialists learn to survive and work with local neighbors to weather the temperatures. freezing temperatures of 60 degrees below zero, winds of 50 miles per hour, and constant near darkness north of the Arctic Circle. These specialists then teach the lessons they have learned to other Air Force units.
In March, the US Marines trained for weeks over the Arctic Circle alongside their Norwegian counterparts. The exercise began shortly after American soldiers training in snow-capped Lithuanian forests were defeated by local troops in a mock infantry ambush.
âThe ambushes were there. They were well hidden, we couldn’t see them even when we were right above them, âsaid an American soldier afterwards, of the Lithuanians. “They did really well, they know their stuff.”
If you find yourself on one of these cold weather training drills, keep in mind a lesson from the British in Estonia: It helps to have a warm sense of humor when everything else is freezing.
“It definitely reminds me of a few songs,” said one British soldier in the video. “Walk in a winter wonderland.”
Related: 50 Mile Winds & Frigid Temperatures: Welcome To The Arctic Military Survival School