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The Soldiers Guide to Operating in the Cold

The Soldiers Guide to Operating in the Cold

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Published by: GoBliNuke on Feb 03, 2012
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The soldiers guide to operating in the cold

The soldiers guide to operating in the cold
Major Bjørn Normann Jacobsen, Norwegian School of Winter Warfare

1 Background
It’s all in the details, operating in cold weather will challenge your ability to pay attention to details. This requires self-discipline, proper training and experience. In a tropical or desert climate a lack of attention to details may cause varying degrees of discomfort, in a cold weather environment it can cause severe injuries or death. Loosing or forgetting to bring personal items might force you from operating mode to survival mode. Everything takes more time to accomplish in a cold environment, eating and drinking regularly and at least 4 hrs sleep every night is vital to avoid cold injuries. To stay operational, one must spend enough time to melt snow and prepare warm meals.

2 Discussion

2.1 Preparation
Preparation of individual kit is very important, so that everything is functioning properly. Preparation starts when you return from your last operation, any deficiencies should be reported/ changed through the stores as soon as possible. Prepare yourself and your unit by being outdoors as much as possible. Learning starts after living outside for at least 4-5 days, by then, poor self-discipline will start to pay you back. Wash all clothing regularly to ensure that the garment is able to function properly. Arctic socks and underwear should be washed by hand only to prevent the loop stitch from lying flat. If they are washed by machine the loop stitch will lie flat very quickly, which results in the garment life and efficiency being shortened. Wash everything inside out to ensure that you get rid of dead skin and dirt. Wash your sleeping mat and make sure it is completely dry before deploying. Fold it in half with the side you sleep on inside before you roll it. This will give you a dry side that is protected from dampness. A dry sleeping mat gives better insulation, make sure your mat is thick enough to provide adequate insulation in cold conditions. Improve the insulation by cutting another mat so that it covers the area from your shoulders and past your hips and put it on top of your sleeping


The soldiers guide to operating in the cold

mat. All spare clothing and the sleeping bag must be waterproofed inside your bergan. Carry a complete set (top/bottoms) of underwear, and two pairs of socks for sleeping and emergency. Spare socks can be used as emergency gloves if required. In a cold dry climate a thin windproof cotton uniform will help you ventilate moisture from your body much better than a “gore-tex” uniform. Wash and impregnate you uniform after each operation, making sure that the zipper works and buttons are present. Consider bringing raingear if you are operating close to the coast, at lower altitudes or if the forecast warns of milder temperatures. “Gore-tex” uniform is an alternative if you know the weather will be humid. Wax boots and gaiter straps to prevent them from freezing up and also to prevent moisture from forming. This should not be done every day as wax tends to penetrate the leather and makes it loose some of its insulation property. It is best to do it once a month or when you see the leather is worn. Remember to wax all kinds of leather straps in your kit. Unless new, no camouflage suit is really white, and will require a wash to lift dirt and stains. Soaking them prior to washing will extract more than the straightforward wash. On completion of each exercise wash them again as some dirt will have accumulated. Thread strong elastic in the pack cover to replace the nylon cordage. This will allow easier access to the bergan and saves undoing bunches of knots. Always attach the pack cover to the bergan with a short cord to prevent strong winds from removing the pack cover. Thread elastic into the trouser cuffs of your camouflage white trousers. This aids easy access on and off and also helps prevent snow entering the suit. Put masking tape onto the metal edges of your metal mug where you place your lips to drink, also place masking tape on the handles to avoid being burnt when holding the mug. Thermos flasks should be immaculate to prevent the contents from being soured, you should only have hot water in your flask to avoid bacteria. Any dents will reduce the flasks effectiveness; tape a piece of sleeping mat around it for protection. The "narrow neck" type of flask is better than a flask that has a wide opening, this is due to more heat loss from a wide neck. Also a "flip top" lid looses heat more quickly than a normal lid. Break down rations to save on rubbish in the field. Throw out all the stuff you don’t need, substitute with food with a high fat content e.g.: nuts, salami, cheese, butter(not margarine). Break the snack pack down into one bag. This is for easier consumption whilst on the move, a high energy “trail-mix” should contain lots of nuts, some raisins/ dried fruit and dark chocolate. Always carry this on your person not in your bergan. Ponchos are not a substitute for a tent in a cold climate. Always check tents/shelter equipment for holes, rips or burns, ensure that guy lines are all there and buttons/zips/poles are in working order prior to deploying into the field. Make sure that your team are able to pitch a tent fast in bad weather, if not drill, drill, drill. Roll any guy lines up into a slipknot when folding away ready for use the next time, this stops them becoming entangled. A layer of candle wax on the top of the ski will prevent ice forming and taking a serious hold, any ice that does form can be removed by a simple bang of the skis. Make sure your bindings are properly adjusted to the boots you are going to use. Weapons should be kept dry from oil unless they are being fired or you have specialist oil for cold temperatures. Ordinary oil can be diluted with fuel for use in cold temperatures. A muzzle cover is imperative to stop snow and ice blockage of the barrel. If you have not got one then improvise using a plastic bag/tape or a condom. A “drop-bag” is useful so you don’t loose magazines in the snow. You can also use a couple of turns of red tape around your mags, this


The soldiers guide to operating in the cold

might help you find them in the snow. Fit new batteries into your torch, before deployment in the field, turn the bottom one upside down to prevent accidentally turning it on. Make sure your cooker is functioning and you know how to use it. If possible carry a small bag of spares for the cooker. (Valve, fuel cap, O-rings, tools etc.) Sigg type fuel bottles are worth considering as they are leak proof and need no funnel if used carefully. Carry a piece of aluminium foil to act as a windshield when cooking. Every soldier should carry some survival equipment. A knife, survival blanket, a couple of Bic-lighters or a fire-steel, candle, emergency ration, compass and map are useful items. Carry these in your pockets, and make sure you know how to use them.

2.2 In the Field
Team leaders and NCOs must make sure that their units have good routines and step up their inspections. Foot and weapon inspection must be held according to the situation, but at least once a day. This should not be left to the individual. Use the “buddy-system”, and make sure there is time enough to check their condition. Don’t forget, to check officers and NCOs, they get frostbite too. Shaving removes the natural fat on your skin. This layer takes 2-3 days to form, and protects your face from the cold. Ideally you should stop shaving a couple of days before you deploy. Shaving the night before will not give your skin sufficient time to form a “fat-layer”. “Sweating in artic conditions is a cardinal sin. – Roald Amundsen ca 1911” Learn to work with your clothing-system. Ventilate when you’re working, open the zippers, take of your cap, and regulate your layers according to activity. Wear a thin windproof cap with earflaps when marching. A “watch cap” is normally to warm and does not protect you from the wind. If you use a balaclava when marching, remember to check under it for frostbites. Try to wear as little as possible under your wind-proofs, without freezing. Try not to sweat, by lowering the work intensity. Sweating lowers your body temperature and fluids are harder to replace in the winter. Be careful when wearing facemasks, they get humid and might freeze to your face. Conserve body heat when you stop, zip up, put on extra layers, protect your head and neck and move around to produce heat. Always carry a spare, warm cap to use when stopping. When you reach your base you should try to get rid of the moisture that has formed in your clothes. Take of your jacket and hang it on your poles, lower your pants around your ankles. Stand in your underwear 2-3 minutes and let the wind dry you out. This will quickly remove a lot of the sweat. Put on an extra layer, and brush away the ice that has formed on the inside of your jacket with your indispensable “snow-brush”. This works best when using a “gore-tex” uniform. The rest of the humidity will slowly dry on your body when you work in your base. Remember to keep moving. A lot of soldiers have been taught to dry clothes in their sleeping bag. It works but you need to think it trough. Every night, moisture from your body and wet clothes will absorb into the sleeping bag, after a while this will freeze when the bag is rolled up, and you might have to break it open when you go to bed. Try only to dry underwear and socks/gloves inside the bag, and make sure to wring it before you put it in your sleeping bag. Boots should be kept outside the bag, under your knees. This way they will not freeze and remain supple. Generally you should not sleep with your boots on, unless you absolutely have to. If you do; change your soles and put on dry socks. Dry your damp soles/socks by placing them under your armpits. The field


The soldiers guide to operating in the cold

jacket can dry out on top of your sleeping bag. Try not to breathe inside your sleeping bag because it will make your bag damp. Put on a balaclava or a “watch cap” when you go to sleep. Remember that warm feet and a warm head/ neck makes you sleep better. Fill your water bottle with warm water and place it inside your sleeping bag, make sure that its not leaking. Take off dry clothes in the morning and put on your wet clothes, they will dry out during the day. Yes, putting on wet clothes is not very pleasant and requires self-dicipline. Always have a set of dry underwear and socks in case of emergency. In any shelter stow all kit not being used inside your bergan, this prevents any panicking during crash moves and prevents articles being lost. Take extra care to keep your cam-whites just that. Take them off before going inside the tent and when you clean your weapon or check your vehicles. Ideally weapons should not be brought inside a tent, condensation will form inside the weapon and then freeze, making it inoperable. Keep weapons outside and use a bergan cover to protect them from the snow. Try to protect your hands from the oil when you clean it, by using dishwasher gloves/latex gloves. Oil will make your skin crack up and give you sore hands; which will be painful after a couple of days. You might want to use a hand cream to avoid cracked skin. A small square of plywood is ideal for use under the cooker. This enables your cooker to have a flat base for cooking on and ensures it does not sink into the snow. Beware of fuel dripping and setting alight to the sleeping mat. Light your cooker outside the tent in case of a “flame-out”, bring it inside when the flame is steady. Only fill cookers to the 3/4 mark as you need some air in the fuel tank. Once it is empty allow it to cool before refilling and lighting again. Do not release the pressure off the cooker until it has cooled as the pressurized fuel can cause an explosion if released where a flame or heat is present. Do not cook when lying inside your sleeping bag, if you bag catch fire it is hard to escape. When melting snow pour a small amount of water in your mess tin first, this speeds up the melting process. A full mess tin takes longer to melt and wastes fuel. Using a round pot is more effective than a mess tin, as it distributes the heat evenly and quickly, which in turn will cook and or melt water more efficiently. A lid will greatly speed up the cooking process as it prevents heat loss and waste, aluminium foil from food packets will act as an improvised lid. Pack snowballs into your pot as this helps melt the snow quicker than if you use loosely packed snow. Carry a clear plastic bag to keep collected snow in for drinks etc. Use the snow that is close to the ground as it contains more water and its cleaner. Fill your flask to the brim as any space will cool the contents and eventually you will end up with a cold drink. Do not throw this cold drink away as it can always be reheated. Use one flask at a time between pairs. Empty the first flask before using the second one, this keeps the drinks inside hotter longer and always preheat flasks prior to filling them. Remember up to 30% in battery life is lost to the cold unless kept warm. Place batteries close to your body or in your sleeping bag at night. Attach a key ring thermometer to your bergan/clothing as a guide to the temperature. This is good for selecting waxes etc

3 Conclusion


The soldiers guide to operating in the cold

In this article I have tried to share some “tricks of the trade” to help you operate more comfortably in a cold environment. Of course the list could be much longer, because winter operations are a specialised field. The different tips I have written are not rules “set in stone”, but must be used according to the situation. Knowledge of the winter cannot be obtained by reading books, but by training and operating in the cold over time. Only by feeling the conditions on your body, you will gain experience. Keep your head warm and your socks dry.


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