Dispatch from the field - exercise Cold Response 2022 wraps up in Norway
What was life like for troops on the ground during one of the largest Allied military exercises of 2022?
A Dutch amphibious reconnaissance Marine helps a US Marine off a Dutch landing craft near Sandstrand, Norway on 21 March during exercise Cold Response 2022. (NATO photo)
As many parts of Europe were enjoying the first signs of spring, the fjords of northern Norway were plastered with frigid, wet rain driven by relentless wind.
It lashed the US Marines of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment as they raised a command post near Bogen, Norway. Their woodland-patterned camouflage uniforms stuck to their backs as they dug in defensive positions. They'd been living out of their Vikings – treaded troop transports designed specifically for the High North – since they'd hit the beach two days prior, ferried ashore by Dutch landing craft. The Vikings were cramped, but at least they were dry.
Further down the road, the Finnish and Swedish troops acting as the adversaries for this exercise peered out from the rain-slick hatches of their own armoured vehicles, which were dug in behind berms of icy slush.
Exercise Cold Response 2022 was certainly living up to its name.
Sometimes the "cold" in Cold Response is very literal – like in this cold-weather injury course training, where US Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Alfredo Esquivel buries himself in a snowbank alongside his comrades. (US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl Meshaq Hylton)
Cold Response is a bi-annual drill organised and hosted by the Norwegian Armed Forces since 2006 – with the exception of 2020, when the exercise was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, making this year's edition even more important. The exercise gives NATO Allies and partners an invaluable opportunity to test themselves against some of the harshest conditions Europe has to offer. The Norwegian fjords provide a master class in austerity, forcing any troops who train there to quickly learn the lessons of arctic warfare, or suffer the consequences.
The challenges presented are daunting, explained Lieutenant Colonel Ryan Gordinier, commander of 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines. The fjords rise steeply from the Norwegian Sea, presenting an immediate challenge to amphibious forces seeking to establish a beachhead.
"As soon as you land, you're right inside the mountains," he said. "This is a unique situation for amphibious action. You literally land on ground and potentially look straight up at a cliff face."
A view of Ruoppat fjord in Narvik, Norway from the deck of Italian Navy aircraft carrier ITS Giuseppe Garibaldi during exercise Cold Response 2022. (US Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt Shawn Coover)
The Marines of 3/6 contended with narrow coastal roads as they made their way inland, making cautious progress as they watched out for ambushes. Screening ahead of them, Norwegian mechanised infantry troops lugged Carl Gustaf anti-tank rocket launchers through thigh-deep snow to neutralise the opposing force's armoured units.
This is a familiar pairing. For years, the US Marines have deployed forces to Norway to learn the hard lessons of training and fighting in the cold. Working alongside the Norwegian Army – and their counterparts in the United Kingdom's Royal Marines, whose training partnership with Norway also stretches back decades – the American troops have honed the cold-weather tactics first developed at their Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, California. Lima Company came clothed in the lessons learned from previous rotations – literally. Rubber over-boots kept their feet dry, while water-resistant shells did their best to keep the rain at bay. Waterproof bags inside their rucksacks kept uniforms and socks dry even when the rucks themselves were dripping wet.
No matter how much the rain soaked Lima Company, there's no way they were as cold or wet as US Marine Corps Lt Angelica Cervantes – pictured here doing cold-water immersion training in a frigid Norwegian lake. (US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl Kyle Jia)
While the US Marines were developing their skills to cope with the weather, their NATO Allies were learning how to operate in harmony with their firepower. When Italian Marines with the San Marco Marine Brigade launched an amphibious air assault from their aircraft carrier, the ITS Giuseppe Garibaldi, their advance was scouted by two US Marine Corps attack helicopters. When the Italian troops were engaged by the opposing force shortly after landing, they called for close air support, using English to direct the notional attack runs. The US Marine Corps AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter sawed through the air at treetop level, giving the Italians a chance to strap on their snowshoes and push towards their objective.
The San Marco Marines couldn't get this experience at their garrison in Brindisi in southern Italy – which was enjoying a sunny, 15° Celsius (59° Fahrenheit) day as the Italians punched through the snow. As another wave of helicopters full of Marines swooped in, Commander Daniele Lucidi turned his back as the rotors threw a wall of snow across the landing zone.
"What we are living here in Norway is important, because weather is an enemy," he said. "And we must be ready for this situation as never before."
Having learned how to survive in the harsh conditions and strengthened their ability to work together, the 30,000 troops who participated in Cold Response 2022 – whether they were from Italy, Norway, the United States or any of the 27 NATO Allies and partner countries that took part – are now even more prepared to face any threat or crisis.
US Marine Corps Sgt Dorian Hinton, a NATO winter instructor, keeps a fire alive and burning bright in Setermoen, Norway. (US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl Jacqueline C. Arre)
This article is part of a series of dispatches from the field, showing what life is like on the ground for NATO and partner armed forces. Check out the other articles for more stories of troops exploring new countries, enduring the elements and cooperating with friends.