FAIRBANKS — Fort Wainwright’s Arctic Wolves Stryker brigade is working to earn the arctic part of its title.
In recent years, the more than 4,000-member 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division has dealt much more with dust than with snow during three year-long deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. They haven’t had a lot of use for skiing or snowshoeing, but officially, as part of a unit that describes itself as the army’s premier arctic warriors, they’re supposed to have these skills.
For this reason, 125 engineers, military police, brigade headquarters staff and other members of the Brigade Troops Battalion found themselves on the civilian side of Birch Hill Recreation Area on the morning of March 21 for the Fort Wainwright Operation Arctic Forge skills competition. Throughout the day, they competed in four events: a 9 kilometer ski, a 6.4-kilometer snowshoe, a shooting exercise with guns propped on ski poles and a sled pull.
Along the trails, skiing clearly was the event that gave soldiers the most trouble, though there was a wide range of skills on display. Some first-time skiers lost balance and fell backward onto their 30-to-40-pound ruck sacks or struggled to get their bunny boots into the NATO bindings of Army skis. On the opposite end of the spectrum were soldiers wearing an arctic patch on their arms who have been trained at the Army’s Northern Warfare Training Center at Black Rapids Glacier.
Standing out among the other soldiers was Lt. Luke Reece who is training for the Tanana River Challenge, a 80-kilometer race between Fairbanks and Nenana this week, who was wearing his own ski boots.
As an enthusiastic skier, he’s been helping some of the other soldiers with ski technique and brought in a 2-pound block of commercial ski wax for other soldiers to use. Some of the military-issued skis date back to the mid-1980s based on the markings from old Army units visible if you dig through enough layers of paint, he said.
“These soldiers, a lot of them have never skied before, and they have to figure out how to do it,” he said. “It gives them a lot of confidence when they finish.”
The soldiers competing in the snowshoe hike looked more confident than the skiers, as did the teams pulling sleds filled with skis, a day’s worth of fuel and a shelter.
At the biathlon station, the event wasn’t much different from other target practices soldiers do with their issued personal weapons.
At 20 meters, soldiers had one 20-round magazine each with which to get four bullets into a series of five targets. For stability, soldiers made a kind of tripod by resting their rifles between their two ski polls placed at angles. A good score Thursday was 16 to 18 shots in the targets, said Ernesto Tamarra Jr., who was running the range.
After a full day in the snow, the winning team was a military police platoon: Sgt. Nathaniel D. Brown, Pvt. 1st Class Allan P. Sloan, Pvt. 1st Class Brandyn M. Stark, Pvt. 1st Class Mikail R. Koci and Pvt. 1st Class Joshua W. Gurkins. The platoon won a trophy and bragging rights.