DBG's surviving in the snow
2nd Lt. Jan Rensen
First published in
SFOR Informer#131, January 31, 2002
During a two-day and two-night winter training exercise,
nearly 120 soldiers from the Dutch Battle Group (DBG) learned
about cold-weather survival. Travelling on military ski-equipment,
hiking for three hours on Laplanders and sleeping in self-built
snow holes were just a few of the lessons-learned.
Bugojno - It must have been a strange sight for the local
skiers near the Emerald Route between Bugojno and Novi Travnik.
For several days Dutch soldiers in full marching-gear were
hiking into the hills using 'Laplanders', special gear for
traversing snowy terrain.
For two days, four groups from the DBG's Alpha and Charlie
teams travelled along Emerald Route for training. The Laplander-hike
(a hike on special snowshoes) was performed on a nearby hilltop.
"Up there everybody was instructed how to survive in
these harsh conditions and how to build snow holes,"
said 1st Lt. Ruud Theunissen. "The safety aspect of the
instruction was very important, for example, how to dig a
safe snow hole. Also the guards have to be very alert during
the night shift. They have to watch constantly if the candles
in the snow holes are still burning. If they don't, it could
mean there's a lack of oxygen in the hole. And last, but not
least, it's also very important to keep on eating and drinking
when living in this cold."
After the instruction portion, the Dutch soldiers prepared
themselves for the night on the hilltop. Digging large snow
holes at least two meters in diameter and about at least one-half-meter
below the surface, two soldiers would sleep together in one
hole. "I expected it to be more difficult," Pfc.
Sjoerd de Jong said about digging the holes. "But actually
we were ready in no time. It took us about two hours."
Also, the temperature at night was not as cold as De Jong
had imagined. "When sleeping inside, the temperature
in the hole is around the freezing-point," Theunissen
tells. "That's not too cold. The worst part is changing
clothes and getting undressed before you enter your sleeping
After the first night of sleeping in the holes, the Dutch
soldiers had a very active day. It started with skiing lessons
on the special military skis, and it finished with "ski-jøren"
in which two soldiers at a time are pulled through the snow
by a tracked BV-vehicle. The speed of the car and the inexperience
of the skiers guaranteed a lot of falls.
At the end of the second day, trainees walked up to the hilltop
again to restore the snow holes and have a quick dinner. The
hardest part of the training began after sunset: a three-hour
Laplander-hike. The height of the snow and the total darkness
in the hills made it a hard walk while temperatures fell below
After a second night in the snow, the soldiers returned to
base. But just what did the soldiers think of the training?
"Fantastic," exclaimed Schilder.
"It's a good break from the duties on the base,"
De Jong said. De Jong and Pfc. Bas Schilder volunteered for
the training, which was a new experience for both of them.
"I've never done anything like this before," continued
De Jong. "Walking on the Laplanders was more difficult
than I expected, but it was a good experience."
For Cpl. Ference Pont and Cpl 1st Cl. Benito Gorter parts
of the training were also new. "For example we slept
a couple of times underground," Gorter explained. "Sleeping
in snow holes is more, or less, the same. Only the temperature
is worse." For Pont, the use of the military skis was
the worst part. "Skiing was really hopeless," he
says. "The skis are not that great, so if you are not
a good skier it's very difficult. I was glad I had a couple
of ski lessons some weeks ago or else it would have been a
disaster for me." Both Pont and Gorter look back with
satisfaction. They laughingly agreed that, "it was good
to do something completely different from the usual work by
having a nice bit of play in the snow."
Training and Exercises
Nations of SFOR: Netherland