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Special Forces Berlin
by James Stejskal



Mountain Operations

Special Forces units have historically trained for cold weather, mountain, and winter warfare operations. While all groups train for this specialized evironment the Special Forces group most experienced with mountaineering is the 10th Special Forces Group based on its historical mission during the Cold War on the European continent.  In the past decade, members of other Special Forces Groups have worked in mountaineous areas during the Afghan War.

Special Forces Military Mountaineering Training

Mountainous Terrain

There are many areas of the world where mountain warfare has taken place or may likely take place.  Special Forces teams, if designated to operate in these areas, must be able to survive, move, and conduct operations in this difficult terrain. For this reason many teams conduct training in mountaineering and there are a few teams designated as "Mountain Teams" that will received specialized advanced military mountaineering training.

(Photo by SFC Tony Sailer of A/1/19th SFGA Soldiers training in climbing techniques, Dec 2007)

Training Locations and Schools

Army Mountain Warfare School (AMWS). The AMWS, part of the Fort Benning training establishment, is located at the Ethan Allen Firing Range in Jericho, Vermont. This location is also known as Camp Ethan Allen Training Site (CEATS). See the Fort Benning website for the Army Mountain Warfare School (AMWS). The Army Mountain Warfare School (AMWS) has access to the Ethan Allen Firing Range where live range firing can be conducted.  The training site was established sometime around the World War II era for the training of mountain troops in skiing - see the Hurley Hill Training Center. There is a Basic Military Mountaineer Summer Course and one for Winter as well. Both are 14 days long. There is also a summer and winter Assault Climber Course - both 14 days long.

Northern Warfare Training Center (NWTC). This school is located at Fort Wainwright, Alaska. It offers a Cold Weather Orientation Course, Cold Weather Leaders Course, Basic Mountaineering Course, Assault Climbers Course, and a Mountain Warfare Orientation Course.

USMC Mountain Warfare Training Center. The Marines mountain warfare school is located in Pickel Meadow, California. It has 54,000 acres of mountainous high altitude terrain at elevations between 7,000 and 11,000 feet. The Exercise Mountain Warrior prepares units for OEF deployments with a 21 day summer and 23 day winter training package. The Mountain Viper exercise provides mountain training to advisor teams heading to mountainous regions of Afghanistan. There are various other courses available at the training center as well to include the Summer and Winter Mountain Leaders course.

Overseas Training Locations

Nepali Army's High Altitude and Mountain Warfare School (HAMWS). The 1st Special Forces Group has occasionaly sent individuals to Nepal's HAMWS. The students in this six week school train in very severly restricted terrain at high altitudes. The six week program of instruction consists of extensive training on ascending and descending techniques, survival and rescue techniques, the use of special equipment, and tactics of the cliff assault in both rock and alpine areas. The course culminates in a scale of Thorang Peak, a 20,200 foot-high mountain in Nepal.

SF Group Level Military Mountaineering Training

In addition to the different military mountaineering schools available to Special Forces detachments the SF groups conduct their own internal mountaineering training. Sometimes this training takes place at locations near their unit location and other times it is a "fly-away" trip to a distant location.

One component of the Military Mountaineering training is referred to as technical climbing on cliff faces often hundreds of feet high using ropes, pitons, chocks, and other climbing equipment.

(Photo A/1/19th SFGA June 2001)

Special Forces Technical Climbing

More Information about Mountaineering
Training in Special Forces

As in the realm of winter warfare, the 10th Special Forces Group is considered quite accomplished in mountain operations as well.  While the other groups do train in mountaineering and have designated mountain teams 10th SFGA benefits from training areas located near their bases (current and historical) and a mission on the European continent where one finds many mountaneous areas as well.

Some of the schools that 10th SFGA has sent its teams to include many in the European armies.  The German Army offered the German Herresbergfuhrer Schule (or Military Mountain Guide School).  Other schools included the Austrian Winter Camp and Italian Alpini Course. 1st Bn 10th Special Forces Group stationed in Stuttgart, Germany continues to enjoy this access to European mountaineering schools.

The USAJKFSWCS Mountaineering Program consists of three different levels of training (as of August 2011).  The Basic Course (Level III) is where 15 basic tasks are learned - including navigating in mountainous terrain, rope commands, transportation of casualties, and rappelling techniques.  In the Senior Course (Level II) students learn the basic fundamentals of rock climbing.  There are 17 tasks taught in the Senior Course including setting up belay and rappelling points, rescue systems, and basic care and procedures for pack animals (mules).  The Master Course (Level I) is the winter alpine stage of the mountaineering program. Some of the tasks covered in the Master Course include glacier movement, avalanche awareness, crevasse rescue, bivouac considerations, and ice climbing.  Training locations are in Colorado, Alaska and other locations around the country.  View pictures of the USAJKFSWCS Mountaineering Program here, here, and here.

1st Special Forces Mountaineering in India
1st SFGA Mountaineering in India (U.S. Army Photo)

Publications and References about Mountain Operations

Infantry Small-Unit Mountain Operations, ATTP 3-21.50, Department of the Army, February 2011 (Adobe Acrobat PDF)

Military Mountaineer Course Knot Guide, Army Mountain Warfare School, Camp Ethan Allen, Vermont, December 2010 (Adobe Acrobat PDF)

Military Mountaineering, FM 3-97.61, 26 August 2002. Purchase on Amazon.com here.

Military Mountaineering, TC 3-97.61 (FM 3-97.61) is now released as of July 2012. Available on AKO and soon on Amazon.com.

Mountain Operations, FM 3-97.6, 28 November 2000.

Mountain and Cold Weather Warfighting: Critical Capability for the 21st Century, Monograph by LT Col Scott W. Pierce, USMC. Published by School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS), USA CGSC, AY 2008.  (Adobe Acrobat file here).

Training for Mountain and Winter Warfare, Study No. 23, by Capt. Thomas P. Govan, Army Ground Forces, 1 September 1945.  (Adobe Acrobat file here on dtic.mil).

Military Mountaineering Equipment

There are numerous sets of mountaineering equipment. Special Forces has the Special Operations Forces Mountaineer Equipment Set. Regular Army units have the High Angle Military Mountaineering (HAMM) Kit, Assault Climber Team Kit, and the Snow and Ice Mobility Kit.

Briefing on the Army Mountaineering Kits and Team Stove by Natick Soldier Systems Center, 12 May 2011.
http://nsrdec.natick.army.mil/APBI/Army . . . _2011.pdf

News and Magazine Articles about Military Mountaineering

March 13, 2024, "Cold Forged Elite Mountaineers", DVIDS. This article describes some of the training tasks conducted in the Winter Mountain Operator Course (WMOC).

April 2, 2022. "Special Operations Winter Mountain Operator Course", SOF News. The 10th Special Forces conducts the SOWMOC for many different units of the special operations community.

March 10, 2014. "New Moutaineering Kits issued to Army Mountain Warfare School". DVIDS. The new Army Mountaineering Kit (AMK) has been issued to the Army Mountain Warfare School (AMWS) in Jericho, Vermont.

February 24, 2014. "Soldiers getting new mountain climbing gear from Army". Stars and Stripes.

April 4, 2013. "Special Forces scale frozen peaks". Colorado Springs Military Newspaper Group. 10th SFGA doing mountain training.

October 31, 2012. Taking the High Ground. Army.mil. A news article about mountaineering equipment development at Natick Laboratories.

_______, "Training for the Cold", NCO Journal, Vol. 21, No.3, March 2012.

Videos on Military Mountaineering

"Army Ranger School Mountain Phase". A video depicting some of the mountaineering skills taught in Ranger School. October 2010.

"Summer Mountaineering Course". Video on NWTC, July 25, 2011.

"Battle Cold and Conquer Mountains" by U.S. Army Northern Warfare Training Center, January 6, 2012.

"Big Picture: U.S. Army Cold Weather and Mountain School". A historical video (circa 1974) by the U.S. Army, 28 minutes long.

"AMWS Mountain Sniper Course". Video providing photos of course.

"AMWS Basic Course". Video shows photos from March 2006 course.



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