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Marines ramp up training under the Arctic northern lights

A Marine moves into position before conducting an assault during exercise White Claymore near Bardufoss, Norway, Feb. 15, 2018. (MARCIN PLATEK/U.S. MARINE CORPS)

Marines with the Marine Rotational Force Europe are putting the Corps motto “in every clime and place” to the test as they continue with Arctic exercises amid below-zero temperatures in northern Scandinavia.

About 300 Marines just finished exercise White Claymore earlier this month, a cold-weather drill that put Marines on skis to learn to fight in Nordic mountains.

Now, a platoon of those Marines is gearing up for the Joint Reindeer exercise in the same region, beginning next week, while another platoon is headed to conduct similar training in Sweden.

“This is extremely different from all the training I have done in the four and a half years I’ve been in the Marine Corps,” said Sgt. William Mclean, who is training with a rotational force in Norway. “I mean, I remember getting to the fleet Marine Force and immediately getting trained to go to war in the desert, and that’s how we trained.

“But now we have to adapt, and get back to the ‘any clime and place’ mentality. And this training has definitely prepared me and my Marines for that. Because if you can fight in this environment, you can fight anywhere.”

The Marines have been holding more exercises in northern Europe since the Corps agreed with Norway in 2016 to host a rotational contingent on six-month stints.

The goal is to improve survival techniques, mobility, and combat capabilities in cold weather, while building on relations with Norwegians and other participating nations, said Staff Sgt. Marcin Platek, a spokesman with Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa.

The biggest challenge has been staying warm.

“The cold can make doing the simplest task a bit complicated,” said Cpl. Careaf Henson, with MRF-E.

Most Marine bases are close to the equator — in normally warm places like southern California, North Carolina and Okinawa, Japan.

Though most of the Marines in Norway haven’t seen this much snow before, even those from the West Coast were doing fairly well once they were outfitted in their cold-weather gear.

Their gear includes vapor-barrier boots, field stoves and 15-man tents.

“The cold can be horrible if you don’t properly prepare yourself,” said Henson. “If you are wearing the proper warming layers and keeping yourself busy while outside, the cold isn’t that much of a problem.”

The Marines in Norway are also utilizing some newly issued skis and reinforced pack frames to give them added mobility in the snow.

The exercises have the Marines skiing into fighting positions and sometimes posting watch under the northern lights.

“My personal experience has been pretty great. I never thought that I’d ever be in Norway,” Henson said. “The northern lights have probably been one of the most amazing things I’ve seen.”


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