Soldiers of 172nd Infantry Brigade push their limits training with Slovenian partners at mountain school

By U.S. Army Europe Public Affairs
Dec. 7, 2010

BOHINJSKA BELA, Slovenia -- A heavily laden Staff Sgt. Kenderick Shunke of U.S. Army Europe's 172nd Infantry Brigade gets back on his feet with help from Sgt. John Beelow (left) and Slovenian instructor Cpl. Miha Rakar during training at the Slovenian Armed Forces Mountain Training Center here, Dec. 2. Soldiers from the 172nd are training alongside their Slovenian partners through Dec. 11 to prepare for the difficulties faced during mountain operations.
BOHINJSKA BELA, Slovenia -- A heavily laden Staff Sgt. Kenderick Shunke of U.S. Army Europe's 172nd Infantry Brigade gets back on his feet with help from Sgt. John Beelow (left) and Slovenian instructor Cpl. Miha Rakar during training at the Slovenian Armed Forces Mountain Training Center here, Dec. 2. Soldiers from the 172nd are training alongside their Slovenian partners through Dec. 11 to prepare for the difficulties faced during mountain operations.

BOHINJSKA BELA, Slovenia -- High up in the Slovenian mountains, members of U.S. Army Europe’s 172nd Infantry Brigade are participating in training with the Slovenian Armed Forces at the SAF Military Mountain School here, Dec. 1 through 11.

“I think it’s an outstanding experience that most people don’t get,” said Sgt. Matthew Clark of the 172nd. “It’s a chance to experience how different militaries work and see their standards of training compared to ours.”

The 10-day course, instructed by cadre of what is officially called the SAF Military Mountain School/ Center of Excellence for Mountain Warfare, is designed to give Soldiers of the 172nd the confidence to operate in a difficult and challenging mountainous winter environment.

“I think it’s quite interesting to work with your guys,” said 1st Lt. Bernard Polanec, the senior Slovenian trainer for the class. “I think they don’t have enough knowledge of the mountains, and we would like to give them as much as possible.”

During the first three days of training the Soldiers of the 172nd found out just how much they knew as they persevered through extreme cold and ankle-to-chest-deep snow to navigate roughly 16 kilometers through steeply inclined forests. In addition to the “normal Soldier load,” each troop carried winter gear that increased his total load to approximately 80 pounds.

“It’s hard, and probably the most physically demanding thing I’ve been through in the military,” said Sgt. Shawn Bender.
The 172nd troops said they appreciated the Slovenian instructors’ extensive experience in mountain operations, and their willingness to share it.

“They’re well-organized, well-equipped, and very knowledgeable,” Sgt. Vaughn Hinkebain said.

The training started with classroom instruction in a variety of mountaineering and cold-weather skills, such as building snow shelters and navigating in the mountains. Next came outdoor training that began with the most basic of winter mountain skills – using snowshoes and skis to travel in the difficult terrain.

“We all need to know the basics: how to walk in snow with snowshoes [and] skis; how to live in this environment; and how to prepare your bivouac,” said Sgt. Jason Landrum.

At the end of the second day of training, the Soldiers climbed nearly 4,000 feet to the top of Pokljuka, a forested plateau where they spent a cold night in snow shelters of their own construction.

“Getting into the sleeping bag wasn’t the hard part -- getting out of it was,” said Sgt. Todd Baker the next morning.
That morning the Soldiers had a chance to warm up while using a climbing harness to rappel and a rope zip line to cross obstacles, by learning to tie knots, and by training with a avalanche transceiver and probe used to rescue victims buried by an avalanche.

“I’ve learned a lot of good stuff, especially about how hard it is to move in the mountains,” said Sgt. John Beelow.

After a foot march back from Pokljuka to Bohinjska Bela, Soldiers and cadre conducted an after-action review and readied themselves for their next mission and another day of training.

The remaining training includes opportunities for the Americans to practice the mountain skills they have already learned and a two-day bivouac that will give them a chance to put those skills to the test.

Another goal of the training here is to give Soldiers from both armies the opportunity to build relationships and networks for future partnerships. The troops did that as they spent time together training, and during a cultural day spent visiting Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital city.

For video reports on the training, visit USAREUR’s YouTube channel. More images of the training are available in the USAREUR Flickr gallery. Links to both sites, as well as more USAREUR news and information, are available at the USAREUR home page.