KODIAK ISLAND, Alaska (NNS) -- Navy SEAL Qualification Training (SQT) students pushed through frigid winds and strong snowstorms during cold weather survival training that ended March 9 on Kodiak Island.
After Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training, special warfare Sailors travel to Kodiak for a 28-day block of instruction to learn to sustain operations anywhere in the world.
"At some point in these students' careers, even if it isn't in a cold weather environment, they are going to learn something here they will use later on," said Lt. Steve Schultz, officer in charge of Naval Special Warfare Advanced Training Command - Detachment Kodiak.
Naval Special Warfare created a training detachment in Kodiak to train winter warfare students in 1987, the same year U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) was established. Since that time, the detachment's purpose and instruction methods have matured.
"I went through winter warfare platoon training in 1989," Schultz said. "At that time, we did not have a written approved curriculum to back up the instruction. There was a training department that came up with the best possible training at the time for winter warfare platoons. Now, everything is written down to support instruction."
The school is structured today to accommodate all students training to be SEALs regardless of what team they are on or to what platoon they become assigned. Prior to the war on terrorism, cold weather training was designated for a few select SEAL platoons that were assigned by geographical location. SEALs working in locations known for snowy conditions would come to Kodiak for training after receiving their trident pin.
"After 9/11 and the fighting that took place in the Afghanistan mountains, the SEALs decided we needed to come up with a more structured cold weather course," Schultz said. "We weren't prepared to fight in that environment."
By 2002, USSOCOM approved a SEAL qualifications training course that would teach all post BUD/S students the skills they would need to survive in a wilderness environment prior to earning their trident pin.
"Today, any team can be deployed anywhere, anytime, so guys who are going through training today have to be trained in every possible environmental condition," Schultz said.
"Most seasoned operators fall back on the fact that the basics make you strong," said Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Todd Peters, senior enlisted advisor for Naval Special Warfare Advanced Training Command - Detachment Kodiak. "You face that no matter where you are deployed to."
When it comes to cold weather survival, often the most basic skills are the most important things a person should know before traveling into the wilderness. Therefore, when students first come to Kodiak, they learn the basics, such as how to wear clothing properly and to use specialized equipment they were issued.
"If you wear the right gear and take the right gear into the field and you're comfortable, it's going to make you capable of performing at a higher level when you reach your target," said Special Warfare Operator 3rd Class Ben Betz.
Learning how to survive is the next priority for SQT students.
"We try to educate students on being smart about aligning their survival priorities," Peters said. "For Alaska, the most important priority is shelter; having the ability to get out of the elements and build a fire. We take them out on an evolution and they get to experience that."
"If you didn't have fire, you got cold real fast," said Special Warfare Operator 3rd Class Josh Jespersen.
With shelter and fire, it's possible for students to maintain their core body temperature and move on to the next phase of training without problems.
From there, students spend a week furthering their navigational training learned in BUD/s.
"Instructors teach you how to terrain navigate through rivers and ravines," Jespersen said. "They teach you how to navigate with a compass, how to use a global positioning system and pretty much everything a person needs to know about navigation."
Near the end of the long cold weather training course, students put their skills together for a final field training exercise held high in remote mountain ranges near the town of Kodiak, Alaska. Left alone in pairs, young special warfare operators must use their navigational abilities to link up with other classmates and travel together to marked points. All the while, they are mentored and monitored by their instructors to make sure everyone returns safely.
Students come down from the mountains after three days of survival training and then spend additional time learning river navigation and rappelling, before graduating from the course.
In the future, plans are in place to incorporate a live-fire range that will help students understand how the cold affects their weapons.
"Instructors will give them a familiarization of the differences between shooting in cold versus shooting when it's warm and toasty outside," Schultz said. "Of course their dexterity will be gone because their hands are freezing. Their feet will be cold because they will be laying in the snow firing rounds down range. It's better to give them a familiarization shoot under training conditions here rather than experiencing it for the first time in Afghanistan."
"When you are in a cold environment, preparation is key," said Peters. "That's why this course is in the training pipeline for SQT. We think it's important enough that everybody in the teams gets exposed to it. At one time or another, if you talk to any SEAL who has been around for a while, you will learn that every SEAL is going to be cold and placed in situations even in training where they will have to take care of their buddy or themselves just to stay alive."
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