Special Forces Engagement with Rocky Mountain Division

From Ed Gassman

This year was an exciting and different year working with Special Forces. As background, after World War II and Korea, all fighting done by US Troops was in the desert or jungle. Because of this, the US Military lost its ability to fight in the mountains. The great heritage of the 10th Mountain Division formed by Ski Patrollers sadly no longer existed. Everything changes at altitude in the snow – mobility, physiological needs, how you shoot, etc. For instance Special Forces generally push to an objective till they are exhausted and then take cat naps. If you do this at 12,000 feet you don’t wake up! Unfortunately for this reason we lost good men going after bad guys in the Afghanistan and Pakistan mountains between 12,000 – 14,000 feet.
Amazingly the Colorado Mountains and snow conditions, especially in Southwest Colorado closely resemble the area where there are terrorist training camps.

In 2010, because of these failures I got asked to head up High Altitude Cold Weather Training or CWT for short. The focus was to first train our best soldiers or Special Forces Green Berets.
Although I was free to do it, I believed the best way was to use Ski Patrollers and recreate the link that worked so well before. We would be the IT’s and train their Instructors. Ironically 10th Special Forces Group received the Mountain Mission Requirement. It must be noted this is NOT 10th Mountain Division of the regular Army which is ironically now based in Kansas.

This year because everything Special Forces does including the identity of the Green Berets is classified, I cannot tell you specifics. However I can say RMD can be very proud that our efforts have had a significant positive effect in the last couple of years in greatly enhancing our effectiveness of going after the enemy in the mountains.
For instance this year we trained for almost the full month of December training Instructors and A Team leaders in the Telluride area not only basic skiing but full up mission scenarios. In the month of February we trained support personnel again in the Telluride area. Training also took place in January and February at Crested Butte. In all cases we work closely with the local Ski Patrol even though we often work in areas closed to the public.

For the past several years we have been working on avalanche science as it may be used both defensively and offensively. We have worked to determine what type of explosives work best in different snow conditions. As with all military knowledge, that information will ultimately filter down to making ski areas safer. Special Forces work in the medical area has recently changed how we treat injuries and for instance upgrading the use of tourniquets.

We this year did advanced tests on human survival in avalanches using $50,000 SF instrumented manikins as shown in the picture below. The manikins were buried, wearing beacons, in two different positions on the hill. A large out of bounds area was selected after a storm. The standard slope charge used in avalanche control is 2.2 lbs. To insure the slope avalanched we used 10 lbs. of explosive. When that didn’t work we used a sled filled with 25 lbs. of explosives. As you might guess, that also did not work. When we placed the manikins we used ropes belayed from the top because everyone expected the slope to go. In typical SF fashion, not to be fooled by Mother Nature, 125 lbs. of explosive was then used. Yes, the whole slope slid. This actually would be more consistent with SF operations when an aircraft drops a bomb. It is important to note this was a joint exercise with Ski Patrol and Forest Service. Both manikins were buried but found by the patrol within 5 minutes. One had multiple serious injuries from the avalanche but technically could have survived. The other hit a tree and was clearly dead from injuries. After the exercise, the manikins had to be guarded in Mountain Village as shown in the picture below.

It is a great experience having RMD take a lead in restoring an elite military mountain capability and recreating our heritage of over 70 years ago.

Leave a Reply