FORT HAMILTON

Improvised shelter building among important skills taught to Cold-Weather Operations Course students

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Story by Scott Sturkol on 02/06/2019
During each session of the Fort McCoy Cold-Weather Operations Course (CWOC), students spend several days in the field surviving in improvised shelters they built with materials they find and have with them.

Lead CWOC Instructor Bill Hamilton, who works for contractor Veterans Range Solutions, which supports the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, or DPTMS, students spend approximately 20 hours during their 14 days of training learning about and building improvised shelters.

"They get three days of building shelters in varying terrain during the training," Hamilton said. "We teach them to build a two-person covered shelter with several inches of natural insulation, which we've seen the students build.

"We've also seen larger shelters that would have six or more people in them and numerous other styles," Hamilton said. "Some work well and others not so much, but all of the students have been quite creative and help each other learn."

Hamilton said the most important factor for each shelter is making sure it's well insulated. Some students have used evergreen boughs combined with leaves and debris. Others have incorporated Army ponchos with natural materials.

"Some have even incorporated snow in their shelter design," Hamilton said. "There has been some really interesting structures put together."

CWOC Class 19-02 student Spc. Zachrey Fortune with 375th Chemical Company of St. Charles, Mo., said learning about the shelters and how to keep a fire going were especially good lessons.

"I got enough training on how to start fires and building shelters that I can teach others," Fortune said. "It's nice to know how to build a shelter using just what the environment around you has to offer. I will definitely be glad to teach others how to build (shelters) and how to survive with that they have."

Army ROTC Cadet Brock Lippiatt with the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, also a class 19-02 student, said he also enjoyed shelter building.

"Being in the field and living out of what we (built) and by what we were taught was incredibly helpful," Lippiatt said. "I also liked the way the course is taught and set up as a crawl, walk, run. The whole course is awesome."

During CWOC Class 19-02's field training with shelter building, the students built several lean-to-style shelters and others took advantage of already fallen trees to build shelters around.

"Building our own thermal shelters was awesome," said Pfc. Tyrell Hess with the 173rd Brigade Engineer Battalion of Rhinelander, Wis. "Having to survive like that made me feel a lot more inclined to work hard and take care of my stuff."

Hamilton said the weather often helps determine how the students will build their shelters and what materials they incorporate into the build.

"It's really about adapting to the environment they have around them and then building their thermal shelters from that point on," Hamilton said.

Each CWOC class training includes a wide range of cold-weather subjects in addition to shelter building, including skiing and snowshoe training, how to use ahkio sleds, setting up the Arctic 10-person cold-weather tent, cold-water immersion, and more. Training also focuses on terrain and weather analysis, risk management, proper wear of cold-weather clothing, developing winter fighting positions in the field, and camouflage and concealment, Hamilton said.

Located in the heart of the upper Midwest, Fort McCoy is the only U.S. Army installation in Wisconsin. The installation has provided support and facilities for the field and classroom training of more than 100,000 military personnel from all services each year since 1984.

Learn more about Fort McCoy online at https://home.army.mil/mccoy, on Facebook by searching "ftmccoy," and on Twitter by searching "usagmccoy.

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