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 bag."
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 minus-fifteen degrees.
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

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Photos: 2nd Lt. Jan Rensen

Making a round through the 'camp'.

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Walking on Laplanders.

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Digging a warm bed in the cold earth.

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Having 'dinner' on the hilltop.

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Do I really have to walk for three hours?