10th Mountain soldiers compete in annual winter challenge


Jonathon Wheeler
Watertown Daily Times, N.Y.
(TNS)

Jan. 19—FORT DRUM — While snow was piling up across the north country — feet of snow in some locations — 10th Mountain Division soldiers like Sgt. James Alsulaimawi were out in the elements training for whatever the Army might throw at them next as part of the D-Series Winter Challenge.

Soldiers had to do tasks that would be done by alpine troops including building survival fires, erecting an unheated tent that they slept in Thursday night, and a suspension traversing. They also a took a history test on the 10th Mountain, among other things.

They had to rappel a weighted box that weighed at least 70 pounds up a cliff and then bring up the two soldiers who had rappelled down.

The first brigade combat team finished in first place.

Air Force personnel compete along side the 10th Mountain Division soldiers in the annual D-Series competition on Fort Drum, New York, on January 18, 2024. The weeklong competition harkens back to the famous divisional maneuvers held on Camp Hale, Colorado, in 1944, the days of the original 10th Mountain Division. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Josiah Jenkins)

The winning squad gets to train in Operation Legacy in Colorado in Camp Hale, where the division was established and participate in the ski days reunion with the 10th Mountain Division Descendants Organization.

They will also be a part of the Vail Legacy Days Parade and march in their overwhites in their skis through the village to the Ski Trooper Statue, among other events.

It’s important to go to Camp Hale because it honors the 10th Mountain Division’s past, according to Lt. Col. Mark D. Cleveland, who helped facilitate engagements with Army University Films and the Army’s marketing office, which were documenting the event.

The competition has been held yearly since 2018 at Fort Drum to help commemorate the hardships and trials that the original 10th Light Division (Alpine) soldiers went through to prepare for combat.

“D-Series” is a reference to the winter training event that soldiers of the 10th went through from March to April 1944 in Colorado that helped them prepare for combat in Italy during World War II.

The D-Series training this week is meant to emulate the culminating training in 1944.

“It’s a nod to the legacy,” Lt. Col. Cleveland said. “We’re celebrating the fact that these veterans came back and contributed just as much to the creation of the outdoor industry and recreation in America as they did to winning World War II in Italy,” he said.

Alsulaimawi, who was on the 1st Infantry Brigade Combat Team that finished first, said they have been training since October and said they had a lot of fun.

He said he found seeing people start to come up behind him or getting in the way to be the most difficult because he is “motivated.”

“It was not a pop quiz. We knew what we expected. We trained for it,” he said.

Being around his teammates was what he found to be the most enjoyable.

Now knowing how to fight in the mountain, snow, and with people he didn’t know is how he feels the D-Series prepared him for what the Army has coming next for him.

Maj. Samuel T. Colby, 10th Mountain Division Special Operations Planner said the 1st Infantry Brigade Combat Team logged a lot of hours getting ready for the event.

“The fact that they’re here now demonstrates a lot of their low-level leader’s ability to properly manage his team’s heat, his team’s calorie intake, (and) make sure everybody’s properly fueled to be able to function in these cold weather environments,” he said.

Each soldier got three cold weather rations to eat during the challenge.

Maj. Colby said that the event is so important because “in the cold, you’re not just fighting the enemy, you’re not just fighting the weight that’s on your back, you’re fighting the environment as well.”

The course, which Colby was the architect for, was 18 miles over the course of around 28 hours.

At the basic level, doing this training will train soldiers to do lower level tasks for military members like shooting, moving, communicating, and medicate. On a larger level, it gives leadership the ability to make decisions as they could decide what order to do the challenges.

In total, 27 teams started Thursday. The top nine were picked by grades on the first-day events, and preparation.

Seeing the first team cross the finish line was “great,” Colby said.

“It was a tough course. I was hoping for snow, but mother nature made sure I got my wish and more and some cold weather,” he said. “We do want to give our soldiers some tough realistic training, remind them where they came from, and again show them the things they can accomplish.”

1st Sgt. Daniel P. Fields is the senior listed advisor to the 10th Mountain Division Light Fighter School where they teach cold weather training, so some of the soldiers doing the challenge were trained by Fields. He said doing the D-Series is important because they want to have the skills, capabilities, culture, and identity to be able to operate in the cold.

“It’s very important that A.) we both honor the legacy of the division while at the same time preparing for our next RIva Ridge or climb to glory,” he said.

Some are being exposed to the snow or this cold weather for the first time. The D-Series is meant to give soldiers the experience and confidence to be comfortable to operate, train, or fight in a snow covered or mountain terrain area.

“The challenge is breaking that mental barrier that some soldiers have of actually exposing themselves to this type of environment and then learning how to function being uncomfortable which builds that proficiency. And then doing it to scale,” he said.

He said that there is a good chance that 10th Mountain Division soldiers’ fingerprints are on different sports or sports apparel, including Nike as it was co-founded by 10th Mountain veteran Bill Bowerman.

“The impact that soldiers of this division had and continue to have I think is unparalleled,” he said.

Norwich University in Vermont sent cadets to participate in the D-Series including Glen F. Sauter, who said he was thinking about the weeks of training that led up to the event when his team crossed the finish line second.

“We were proud to do it and do it together,” he said.

Going through the snow he felt was the biggest challenge.

“That was definitely a haul, but we got it done, we got there,” he said.

He enjoyed being with his team the most.

“Just being able to do it with our nine man crew that we had was awesome,” he said.

Finishing this shows that they can handle cold weather Sauter said.

“I’m interested in doing more of that in the future after I commission,” he said.

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