KIRUNA, SWEDEN – There’s cold and then there’s above the Arctic Circle cold. So cold that frostbite on exposed skin can occur within minutes. Not cold enough to stop special operations forces from operating in the environment.
U.S. Air Force Special Operations Forces assigned to the 352nd Special
Operations Wing and U.S. Army Special Forces assigned to 10th Special
Forces Group (Airborne) conducted an Arctic Winter training course from
February to March 2018. The training consisted of realistic scenarios and classroom instruction that spanned the course of six weeks.
“The course included classes and practical exercises on survival in a
cold weather environment,” said a USAF SOF operator. “We also trained
movement on skiis and snowshoes, advanced snow mobile movements and
live-fire ranges. In Special Tactics, we need to have the ability to
employ and project global access, precision strike and personnel
recovery across the globe, regardless of environment.”
Combined training and the exchange of information is critical for successful joint military operations.
“Our success relies on interoperability between U.S. and European
forces,” said a USAF SOF operator. “We use common practices, but it is
invaluable to integrate and train alongside our partners. This allows
U.S. forces to gain credibility and build relationships that will
continue during future engagements.”
The benefits of surviving and operating in the harsh conditions weren’t the only lessons learned from the course.
“Joint and combined training has been the most beneficial aspect of our
trip to the Arctic,” said a USAF SOF operator. “We have learned several
tactics, techniques and procedures and standard operating procedures
that we have adopted and trained to. These lessons learned not only add
to our survivability, but also increase the lethality of our forces.”
Training in the Arctic provides the U.S. and their partners the opportunity for future operations and strategic planning.
“The Arctic Circle holds strategic military, economic and geopolitical
value,” said a USAF SOF operator. “The intent of our training is to
support our European partners across all environments in [United States
European Command]. The High North provides an opportunity for us to
collaborate with partner nations in winter warfare exercises and learn
from past and present experiences.”
The training in the unforgiving environment expanded the capabilities of
the tactical teams and left them with a new-found respect for the cold.
“Training in the Arctic is a very humbling experience,” said a USAF SOF
operator. “In the words of our partner forces, ‘In training, the enemy
is simulated. The cold is real.’