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Journey Through the Snow (Part I)

Lance Cpl. Ali Azimi, Combat Correspondent, Headquarters Battalion, sits in front of 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment's gear pile prepping his camera for their trip to Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, Bridgeport, Calif., March 28, 2012. Azimi will be attached to the Battalion for the next three weeks, documenting their training. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Sarah Dietz)

I’m not an infantryman. I’ve never been part of a grunt unit. But, I’ll be spending the next month with them in the wilds of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

I’ve been attached to 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment as they complete their cold-weather training evolution.

I’ve never been to Bridgeport, Calif., before either. As I understand it, it is the only place in the United States that offers high altitude, cold-weather training to Marines. In my mind, all I can imagine is Mount Everest with a barracks building halfway up, where we will acclimatize to the high elevation the first week.

My entire Marine Corps career has revolved around the desert. Since bootcamp to my first and current duty station at Twentynine Palms, the only things I’ve been taught and thought I’d need to be prepared for involved hot weather and sand. And I grew up in Los Angeles, so snow is completely foreign to me.

The Battalion outfitted me for the next month in the snowy mountains. I received my cold-weather gear, half of which was almost extraterrestrial to me. Some of it I recognized, such as the fleece tops and bottoms. But other things took me by surprise.

During cold-weather training Marines endure hikes on snowy hilltops, learn to melt snow for water, and receive classes on anchoring and avalanche training. Additionally, they learn skiing techniques through trails in the mountains. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by 2nd Lt. Jeanscott Dodd)

Nevertheless, I signed for it all, assuming I’d need it at some point. The last thing I want is to be left freezing in the snow.

After arriving in my barracks room, I dumped all my gear onto the floor to examine everything a little more closely. Then of course, came the packing.

The first thing that caught my attention were the “Mickey Mouse” boots. These white boots are larger than my head, and looked like my everyday, issued combat boots easily fit inside. Although they seemed like they’d be practical in a snowy environment, they still looked ridiculous.

Next to it lay the “Happy Suit,” a giant fluffy, tan-colored top and bottom that I’m sure has got to keep me warm, even in the icy mountains. It would keep me “happy.” I imagined myself wearing it, and got even happier. I’m pretty sure it’s going to make me look like a medium-toasted Pillsbury doughboy.

All the gear I had received seemed to be created with more thought toward warmth rather than ease of movement. Then again, if all my limbs are frozen, then I can’t move at all.

So this makes sense.

Along with the cold-weather gear, I’m also packing my personal issued gear. I haven’t hiked with a pack since Marine Combat Training, and now I will have to do it at more than 6,000 ft. above sea level in snow.

The morning of the trip, all of 2/7 staged their gear in a large parking lot before sunrise.

By the time light began to show, the Marines were loaded onto the buses and set to go.

There were restrooms in the back of each bus and the Marines were each given a package of Meals, Ready to Eat. The unit was determined to make as little stops as possible.

The Marines made small talk as the buses headed out, laughing and joking about one thing or another.

Two Marines sitting behind me on the bus continued a conversation about the dreaded trip to the snowy hilltops.

“This is the best part of the trip,” one said leaning back in the bus seat.

“Sadly, that’s true,” responded the other.

Five minutes into the bus ride, the bus became dead silence. The Marines had entered into a state of hibernation.

It has never ceased to amaze me, Marines’ ability to fall asleep under any condition. Snow, desert, lying down or standing up, if a Marine is given the opportunity to rest, he appreciates every minute of it.

Within ten minutes I joined them in the deep slumber. The only time we woke up was at the few stops we did make during the long nine-hour drive.

After arriving at our destination, we stepped off the bus into a gloomy, brisk atmosphere.

The sky was white as if the snow had ascended into the air, a possible omen of our next three weeks here. Whatever comes, we will be ready.

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9 Responses

  1. Rpickelsimer says:

    Lance Cpl Matthew Pickelsimer’s grandfather passed last Sunday.  We flew Matt in to Georgia.  He did not make it in time before his Pa- paw passed.  However it was a blessing to have him home.  I haven’t slept that sound since he left in November after Thanksgiving.  I know that you all are headed to Afghanistan in October?  I pray that all are safe and Gods will is carried out.  I pray that all come home safe and well.    

  2. Burr311 says:

    fractured my pelvis there with 2/3. oohrah!!

  3. GySGTsMTNGirl says:

     Ditto what the SGTMAJ said – it was a pleasure having 2/7 up here at MCMWTC and seeing a few familiar faces.  :-)

  4. cjmoses2 says:

    My son was with you as part of the 2/7. Thanks for documenting this experience. Can’t wait for part 2. God bless marines!

  5. cyn price facebook says:

    You bugbear safe there. Make some snow angels for me. All of you service men n women are always in my thoughts and prayers. Thank-you for service lovs yas God bless

  6. Cats7rl says:

    looking forward to reading part II. My son is with the 2/7 and was on the mountain with you.

  7. James C Kirkland says:

    Thanks for the impact 2/7 is having on keeping the MCMWTC in business.  Great article Lance Cpl. Ali Azimi! 

    Semper fi,

    SgtMaj Kirkland

  8. Bruce Gordon says:

    From a former Marine Combat Correspondent to an active one: great writing! Enjoy the snow. BZ

  9. Dakota B. Feenstra says:

    My father was and instructor there. Sgt. Joseph P. Feenstra. I remember going there when i was little and living in base housing. I kinda miss it. I know my dad does. He just retired with 27 years. 15 United States Marine Corps and 12 in the NVARNG. I’m not to far from being able to have my turn at it. Semper Fi!