By Cpl. Dallas Johnson
MOINTAIN WARFARE TRAINING CENTER, BRIDGEPORT, Calif. — As bone-chilling winds tore through California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, Marines with 1st and 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, participated in Mountain Exercise 2-19, at Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, Bridgeport, Calif., from Feb. 25 to March 28.
Established in 1951 as the Cold Weather Battalion, MWTC is one of the Corps’ most remote and isolated posts that provide cold-weather training for personnel who are bound for deployments and further training around the world. With its base camp nestled at 6,700 feet above sea level, and training areas rising above 11,000 feet, MWTC is the premier location for this specialized training.
“What Bridgeport offers is, fundamentally, wet, cold conditions that range from 35-10 degrees, and this creates a lot of challenges,” said U.S. Marine Corps Col. Kevin Hutchison, commander, MWTC. “Nowhere else does any training area offer altitude, compartmentalized terrain, snow and similar conditions.”
Both battalions, who are stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., received a 12-day crash course on acclimatization, lessons on moving in the snow, and keeping warm.
They put what they learned to the test by summiting and surviving atop the 12,000-foot mountain.
The units focused on three mission essential tasks: survival, mobility and combat. During the physically demanding exercise each Marine’s issued main-pack weighed up to 103 pounds.
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Graham Blunt said training in such an unfamiliar environment, altitude, temperature and mountainous terrain brought its fair share of challenges to the units, which normally train in humid, flat terrain on N.C.’s coast.
“We’re all east-coast Marines,” said Blunt, a squad leader with Company C, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. “Being out here puts us out of our element, only in great ways.”
We’re learning the basics all over again, but this time in a mountainous environment, he said. “Right now, we’re at 8,500 feet. Other platoons, like our snipers, have gone significantly higher.”
Hutchison said this type of cold-weather package is an invaluable lesson for the Marines.
“On the most basic level, the Marines are hardened to a degree that they’ve never been hardened before,” Hutchison said. “When you look at the Marines and talk to them after the exercise, you see confidence, a confidence in their ability to overcome any type of environmental or physical challenge.”
“This is a place that makes Marines strong,” Hutchison said.