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Marines train to fight in the cold in Finland

Jan. 11, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Sgt. Brandon Johnson, a squad leader with Black Sea Rotational Force, observes his squad as they conduct cold weather training in Romania in December. Johnson was chosen for a similar training mission now going on in Finland.
Sgt. Brandon Johnson, a squad leader with Black Sea Rotational Force, observes his squad as they conduct cold weather training in Romania in December. Johnson was chosen for a similar training mission now going on in Finland. (Marine Corps)
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Marines with the Black Sea Rotational Force are training with Finnish soldiers for the first time, swapping skills on arctic and urban warfare in areas that average single-digit temperatures in January.

Two sergeants, a staff sergeant and a first lieutenant will spend three weeks training in Finland through late-January. It’s the first time the rotational force has participated in a bilateral exercise with soldiers from Finland’s Guard Jaeger Regiment, said 2nd Lt. Danielle Dixon, a spokeswoman for BSRF.

“The Jaeger Brigade is the premier winter training unit of the Finnish Defence Forces,” Dixon said. “The troops specialize in various light infantry, cold weather operations in sub-arctic conditions and provide the Cold Weather Operations Basic Course to international students, such as the Marines.”

The first portion of the Marines’ training focuses on cold weather and arctic tactics. That includes emergency first aid and cold weather injury prevention and treatment, Dixon said. They’ll also practice tactical movements and basic fighting techniques in cold weather and snow conditions, she said, including skiing techniques, building temporary shelters, gathering and preparing food, and land navigation.

For that portion of the training, the Marines and Finnish soldiers will be in Rovaniemi, in north-central Finland. The temperature dipped into the single digits during part of the Marines’ time there.

“The Marines will be dividing their stay between the barracks and overnight field training in snow caves,” Dixon said.

The second phase of the training will be held farther south in Helsinki, the capital of Finland. It sits on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, and temperatures are expected to hit the low teens while the Marines are there.

But in Helsinki, the Marines’ training will focus on an area they’re more accustomed to: military operations in urban terrain.

“This training will allow the Finnish Army and [Marine Corps] to share skills between great partners, and work on interoperability,” Dixon said.

Army Brig. Gen. Petri Hulkko told the Helsinki Times that the Finns will send troops to courses organized by the U.S. Navy later in 2014. Army officials will examine the results of their collaboration with the Marine Corps before determining whether to continue it in the fall, and they’ll also look at additional training opportunities.

“We don’t know as yet what courses will be [organized] that could benefit our [defense],” Hulkko told the Finnish paper. “Sniper training is something we would find useful.”

This isn’t the first time BSRF Marines have conducted cold-weather training during their deployment to Eastern Europe. In December, they participated in a cold-weather training package focused on defense tactics aboard Babadag Training Area in Romania, Dixon said. Temperatures averaged about 23 degrees, she added.

This iteration of BSRF is the first to complete a full-year rotation to Romania. The previous rotations were typically about six months long, and were carried out by members of Marine Forces Reserve.

About 300 Marines typically deploy with BSRF, which aims to enhance military partnerships across Eastern Europe. Members of 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., currently make up BSRF-14. They are slated to remain in Romania until about March, when they will be replaced by members of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, also out of Camp Lejeune.■

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