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Journey Through the Snow (Part 3)

Marines with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment begin the tail-end of their cold-weather training at the Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Calif. The Marines still had a few more obstacles to overcome as they learned how to survive all situations as a cohesive unit. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Ali Azimi)

On the last leg of our training, we had to leave Grouse Meadows and head up to Summit, almost 1,000 feet higher in elevation. We filled in the trenches and holes where our tents used to sit, packed up our gear and headed out.

The hike to Summit was nothing like the initial hike at the beginning of Basic Mobility. The entire movement was in the snow and the higher we went, the deeper the snow became. We had our snow shoes on the entire time.

A few times, during the steeper mountains we scaled, I almost tilted over, hurling back down the mountain, my main pack firmly still attached to my back.

Pfc. Jonathan R. Shaw, maching gunner, Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, carries an M-240B medium machine gun during a conditioning hike at the Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Calif., April 3. The M-240B and its sighting optic weigh approximately 30 pounds. The hike took Marines from the 7,000 ft. elevation base camp to Summit Meadows, 9,300 ft. above sea level. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Ali Azimi)

But we finally reached our destination.

I wasn’t with Fox Company the last time they dug in, so I was curious to see how they built such well-structured trenches and living areas. I soon found out their secret – simple hard work.

Digging-in was much harder than filling the trenches with already broken pieces of ice and snow. By the end of the day, my back hurt, and I couldn’t wait to lie down. But I couldn’t. I had to make some “snow soup” to quench my thirst and reserve for the next day’s activities.

Next game – They took away our tents, and we now only had our tent flys, a white cover that we put over the main body of the tents. There was no lining between me and the ground, so I expected to be freezing. Strangely, it was one of the warmest nights I had experienced so far.

The days were much the same: melting snow for water in the evenings, training in the daytime. But, the schedule was switched up on our second to last day.

After two nights, we filled in our trenches before another move. This time it was only a few clicks, across another open field. It wasn’t a hard move, comparatively speaking.

That morning, we staged our gear near the future encampment and went cross-country skiing. What awaited us at the end of the trip was something much more interesting than slushing across the ice in a single file line, staring intently at either the snow or the guy in front of your head.

The red hat instructors taught us other methods to transport Marines involving a long piece of rope and a foreign-made, tracked all-terrain vehicle called a Bandvagn 206, or BV for short. The BV pulled Marines on skis, who tied their ski poles to the rope hanging behind the two-compartment craft.

Headquarters and Service, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment Marines hike down after reaching an elevation of approximately 7,600 ft above sea level at the Mountain Warfare Training Center March, 30. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Ali Azimi)

Only a few Marines were actually able to try it. The rest watched, waiting for someone to face-plant in the snow. Only one did, who will not be named only for concern for my personal safety.

We paid for our merriment though, and the rest of our evening was spent digging. Still without our tents, we constructed “snow coffins.”

I was paired up with an infantryman who was shorter than me, so we built our hole to my height, which is two isomats wide, scientifically speaking. We made it as shallow as possible. “The smaller the hole, the warmer you are,” I remembered one of the instructors saying.

We placed a water-resistant poncho beneath and on top the hole. Each Marine pair built theirs differently. We were told our imaginations were our only limitations. In that case, I imagine we should have snuck inside the BV and saved our time for making snow soup.

By the end of our efforts, though, I was proud of the “coffin” we had built. I worked hard on it, thinking it might actually be my final resting place. It seemed near impossible to sleep in actual snow overnight and not be a person-shaped, life-size popsicle in the morning.

Once again, I was wrong. I thought our tent flys contraption was warm. I was wrong. This really was the warmest I’d been since sleeping in the temperature-controlled squadbays in mainside. I don’t understand the science of it, even though it was explained. All I know is that it works.

Our final night out, Fox Company held a bonfire. Not for fun of course, but mostly to dry us off after digging our sleeping holes. Marines gathered around the warm, crackling flames like flies to one of those electric bug zappers.

One guy sang “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King movie, and others told hilarious stories I cannot repeat in a polite, public forum. Before heading to bed, and I now use the term in the loosest sense of the word, an officer began to recite a few passages from the book, “The Last Stand of Fox Company.”

And tucked in here, high in the mountains, hidden by snow and lines of tall, darkened evergreen pines, was something special. Here was brotherhood and here was family. Even for a POG like me, amongst the grunts.

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  • Aeronca747

    I cherished my time in Bridgeport with 1/4 back in 84-86,the Old Corps ,we still carried .45s, and in ’84 consumed the Marine Corps last C rats just before they timed out.

  • Josiahblair7

    Yes, there is also a book recounting  the experiences of Fox Companys defence.Titled: The Last Stand of Fox Company, written by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin. Despite some language problems, I would recommend the book.

  • Rollo Gallion

    Nothing changes at MWTC same end results.  Marines become brothers there.  The skills and the ability to adpate to any clim and place makes for the finest fighting force in the world. 

  • joe

    great article and it brings back memories of doing that stuff back in the early 60′s. Semper Fi my friends

  • 1of the Few

    The Last Stand of Fox Company – most symbolic and humbling during Mountain Warfare!  Those reading here who may not know, Fox Company was especially isolated from other Marine Units at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea 1950.  All Marine Units were ‘skeleton crew’ depleted, but Fox was in the direst of straits.  

    During the breakout from Chosin back down toward Hung-nam, the remaining Marine Units trudged in pitch blackness, -49 degree weather, across snow and ice covered mountains to rescue Fox Company.

    Against all odds, but true to Marine Corps esprit de corps, Fox Company was relieved and joined ranks with their fellow Marines.  

    SEMPER FIDELIS, MARINES!!

  • River Isaac

    awesome marines!