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Soldiers learn winter survival at Mount Spokane

Sat., Feb. 5, 2011, 8:35 p.m.

Many people complain about shoveling the driveway, scraping icy windshields, about snowy roads not being plowed quickly enough, or battling berms while driving down the street.

For soldiers with A Company of the 341st Military Intelligence Battalion of the Washington Army National Guard, learning to survive winter is just another day on the job. The unit, made up of soldiers who speak a variety of foreign languages, had a winter survival training drill Saturday at Mount Spokane, but they did much more than shovel some snow.

“By teaching survival, it enables you to stay out of enemy hands,” said Sgt. Richard Gutina. “It encourages you to evade capture.”

The group built fires with little more than a flint. They skied for miles, wearing full rucksacks. For many, it was a first time on cross-country skis.

They made shelters using natural landscape that would hopefully go undetected by the enemy in a hostile situation. And they crafted sunglasses out of whatever they had on hand to protect their eyes from the glare of the sun on the snow.

Most importantly, perhaps, the soldiers gained confidence. Confidence that they could survive in the woods, in freezing temperatures, with very few resources.

“If you’re put in a situation that tests your capacity, you realize how much you can do with limited assets,” said Staff Sgt. Colleen Nelson. “It just gives you confidence to know you can do more than you thought you could.”

Not every weekend spent on base involves learning such survival skills. Spc. Eric Stromberger said sometimes more mundane, administrative-type work must be done.

But, he said, “We’re pretty lucky in this unit. We get to do some pretty fun stuff.”

Despite only meeting one weekend a month, the unit is tight-knit, Stromberger said. And despite some minor disagreements over things such as the best location to build a shelter, outings like Saturday’s bring the group closer together.

“We’re a family,” he said.

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