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The Current State of Military Mountaineering.

America's Army has been at war in one of the most mountainous regions in the world for more than seven years and is just starting to fully grasp the difficulties involved with conducting operations in this type of environment. Mountains and cold weather coupled with the complexities of today's contemporary operating environment (COE) challenge our units in numerous ways. Altitude and weather impact the effectiveness of fixed and rotary winged aircraft, weapons systems, and Soldier sustainability. Rough and steep terrain limits mobility and degrades communications. Commanders of all units struggle with how to best train and equip their formations for this type of combat. Fortunately, there are resources available to assist in this endeavor. The purpose of this article is to highlight these resources in specific terms of specialized mountain warfare training and equipment.


The basic foundation of training for mountain warfare operations as defined by FM 3-97.6, Mountain Operations, is the Level 1 Basic Military Mountaineer. This is a Soldier who has graduated from a TRADOC-approved military mountaineer course of instruction and has been awarded the special qualification identifier (SQI) "E"--Military Mountaineer. An SQI E Soldier is trained in the fundamental mobility, survivability, and sustainability skills required to operate in a mountainous cold weather environment. Currently two schoolhouses are authorized to qualify military mountaineers: The Army Mountain Warfare School (AMWS) located in Jericho, Vt., and the U.S. Army Northern Warfare Training Center (NWTC) located at the Black Rapids Training Site in Alaska. Both institutions have world class, combat-experienced cadre who are eager to pass along their knowledge to deploying units.


Level 1 Basic Military Mountaineer Tasks (IAW FM3-97.6):

* Characteristics of the mountain environment

* Mountaineering safety

* Use, care, and packing of individual cold weather clothing and equipment

* Care and use of basic mountaineering equipment

* Mountain bivouac techniques

* Mountain communications

* Mountain travel and walking techniques

* Hazard recognition and route selection

* Mountain navigation

* Basic medical evacuation

* Rope management and knots

* Natural anchors

* Familiarization with artificial anchors

* Belay and rappel techniques

* Use of fixed ropes (lines)

* Rock climbing fundamentals

* Rope bridges and lowering systems

* Individual movement on snow and ice

* Mountain stream crossing

* First aid for mountain illnesses and injuries

Units deploying as a part of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) would be well served to have several Soldiers qualified as Level 2 assault climbers. Assault climbers are the jumpmasters of the military mountaineering world and are graduates of approved Level 2 mountaineering courses.


The Army Mountain Warfare School teaches both summer and winter basic military mountaineering courses of instruction; graduation of either course qualifies Soldiers for the SQIE. The course is focused on the shoot, move, communicate, and medicate skills required to conduct combat operations in the mountains. The course is 15 days long. Additionally AMWS conducts two Level 2 courses per year, one in summer and one in winter. Recently AMWS has added several OEF-focused injects into the basic course program of instruction (POI) to include animal packing, field expedient aerial resupply, high angle fire live-fire exercises, and soldier load management. Mobile training teams and specially tailored unit training packages are available upon request. Students gain access to AMWS through the Army Training Requirements and Resource System (ATRRS) school code 959.

The U.S. Army Northern Warfare Training Center training facility in Alaska provides a training environment with terrain and weather strikingly similar to that of the mountainous regions of Afghanistan. NWTC courses include the 15-day Basic Mountaineering Course, which qualifies Soldiers for the SQI E, the 15-day Level 2 Assault Climber Course, the 13-day Cold Weather Leader Course and the four-day Cold Weather Orientation Course. NWTC also provides unit MTTs and tailored training packages available upon request. Students gain access through ATRRS school code 699.


Military Mountaineering Equipment

A standard set of equipment to operate in the moderate to high-angle mountain environment has been lacking for many years. Except for rope, webbing and carabiners, units have had to locally purchase equipment "off the shelf." This has resulted in varied equipment that does not meet our subdued requirements. Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier is currently working to fix that. Product Manager Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment (PM-SCIE) has conducted extensive testing on equipment. From this testing, derived from a set of requirements to update the Special Operations Forces Mountaineering Equipment (SOFME) set, they have developed three separate kits designed to enhance the mobility of the Soldier in the mountains.

The High Angle Mountaineering (HAM) Kit is designed to enable a minimally-trained Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) platoon to move through steep rock-covered terrain. The kit has enough commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) harnesses, carabiners, rope and webbing to allow the Soldiers to move over rope installations established by trained assault climbers. Each individual kit weighs under two pounds.

The Assault Climber Team (ACT) Kit is designed to provide a trained three-man assault climber team the harness, carabiners, rope, webbing and rock protection necessary to establish rope installations such as fixed ropes for follow-on Soldiers.

The Snow and Ice Mobility (SIM) Kit is designed to enable a trained IBCT platoon to operate in steep snow and ice covered terrain. It includes enough COTS snowshoes, crampons, ice axes and avalanche safety equipment to enhance their mobility and keep them safe.

All of this equipment will be as subdued as technology allows, built in coordination with the U.S. Marine Corps mountaineering kits and will take advantage of existing products all certified by the highest industry standard.

Operations in mountainous regions create some of the most challenging combat conditions that our Soldiers will face. Properly trained in mountain warfare skills and equipped with state of the art military mountaineering equipment, our units will be better able to focus on the mission at hand not the weather or terrain. The U.S. Army Mountain Warfare School, the U.S. Army Northern Warfare Training Center, and PEO Soldier stand ready to assist deploying units in taking the fight to the enemy.

Contact Information

U.S. Army Mountain Warfare School--Contact AMWS Operations at (802) 899 -7202 or e-mail through the AMWS Web site at

U.S. Army Northern Warfare Training Center--Contact NWTC Operations at (907) 353-1364/1165 or e-mail through the NWTC Web site at

POC for U.S. Army Military Mountaineering Equipment is SGM (Retired) Darren Bean at or (508) 233-5840.

LTC Nate Lord commands the Army Mountain Warfare School and previously commanded 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry (Mountain). He is a 1991 ROTC graduate of the University of Maine and veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom.

MAJ Dave Bragg commands the U.S. Army Northern Warfare Training Center and previously commanded companies in the 82nd Airborne Division. He is a 1998 ROTC graduate of the Colorado School of Mines and veteran of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom.

SGM (Retired) Darren Bean is the Mountaineering Equipment Project Officer for PEO Soldier, a retired Soldier, and was previously the Sergeant Major/Chief Instructor of the Army Mountain Warfare School.
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Title Annotation:Training Notes
Author:Bragg, Dave; Bean, Darren
Publication:Infantry Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2010
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