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US Marines in Norway

Into the Arctic: US Marines Navigate Howling Winds and White-Out Snow in Norway

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“It could be a desert, it could be tropical areas, but the Arctic climate prepares you for most environments on the planet.”

American Marines faced off against howling winds and frigid temperatures in order to prepare for Exercise Steadfast Defender 2024, the largest NATO exercise in decades.

The troops from 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment arrived in Setermoen, Norway in January for several weeks of cold weather training. They’ll need it when they move to the country’s remote Finnmark region for Exercise Nordic Response, which is part of the Steadfast Defender series.

After some classroom instruction, the Marines headed into the hills above Setermoen Camp, where they established a camp and honed their survival skills – boiling snow for water, digging defensive positions, and learning how to navigate around the snow-covered landscape. At night, the temperature dropped below -20 centigrade, forcing the Marines to rely on their training to avoid injury.

The harsh temperatures and snow make the terrain very difficult to operate, according to Norway’s Lieutenant Colonel Petter Bakkejord.

“That will enable us to operate anywhere in the world,” Bakkejord said. “It could be a desert, it could be tropical areas, but the Arctic climate prepares you for most environments on the planet.”

For some Americans, the weather was a first.

“We have a large number of Marines who have never been in the snow in their life before,” said Col. Ted Driscoll, who commands 1st Bataillon, 2nd Marine Regiment. “So to take a Marine, this is the first time seeing snow, and then end up having them on skis, able to move around on skis, is a very large but rapid learning curve.”

Like anything, proficiency takes practice, Driscoll said.

“You got to take that feeling of unknown and uncertainty with a new skill and you just got to attack it head-on, as the Marines have done, and just grow in that proficiency through the repetitions,” he said.

Towards the end of February, the Marines are heading north to practice defensive and offensive operations alongside troops from Finland, Norway and Sweden. Nine other Allies are also participating in Nordic Response, including Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Steadfast Defender is a series of exercises designed to test Allies’ ability to coordinate troop movements and operations across multiple regions. 

Based on reports courtesy of NATO.

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