Michigan National Guard
Story by Capt. Joe Legros
CAMP GRAYLING, Mich. – Combined arms cold weather training is the highlight of Northern Strike’s winter exercise hosted in northern Michigan Jan. 23-29, 2021.
A blustery wind blows through the observation post in Camp Grayling as exercise planners look out over an icy, snow-covered landscape. Within minutes, dual attack helicopters fire missiles onto a simulated enemy, loosening up their target and clearing the way for A-10s and artillery fire.
“One of the biggest advantages of the National All-Domain Warfighting Center at Camp Grayling is the ability to train through and overcome challenging environmental conditions,” said Army Col. Bart. J. Verbanic, Northern Strike’s Land Component Exercise Director.
“Participating units develop the capability to endure the extreme elements and maintain readiness.”
Verbanic was speaking to Wisconsin National Guard Adjutant General, Air Force Maj. Gen. Paul E. Knapp, whose 1-120th Field Artillery unit participated in the below-freezing weather. The official term for this morning’s event on Jan. 25, 2021 was a combined arms live fire exercise, or CALFEX.
With several units participating in “Winter Strike” 21, it truly was a combined effort.
Along with artillery from the Wisconsin National Guard, the CALFEX focused on synchronization of joint fires from Marine and Army rotary wing assets, B-52 bombers from the Air Force’s active duty 5th Bomb Wing, Minot, North Dakota and personnel from the West Virginia National Guard. Additionally, Air National Guard (ANG) JTACs from New Jersey’s 227th Air Support Operations Squadron (ASOS) and New York’s 274th ASOS, ANG A-10Cs from Selfridge, Michigan, as well as Marine Corps 2nd ANGLICO (Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company) from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina are all taking part in this training event.
Due to the extreme conditions, cold weather survival experts also participated in the event.
“Our near-peer threats live and operate in some of the harshest cold weather environments in the world,” said Hunter Heard, a cold weather operations course instructor who traveled from Ft. McCoy, Wisconsin. “U.S. servicemembers benefit greatly from this type of winter training.”
Heard is in his fourth year of leading a cold weather survival course at Ft. McCoy. He also served for three and a half years as an instructor for the Northern Warfare Training Center in Black Rapids, Alaska. This week he served as an advisor during Winter Strike.
With the temperature hovering between 15-20 degrees Fahrenheit and almost daily snowfall this week, Camp Grayling served as a unique venue to hone combined cold weather warfighting skills.
The Northern Strike exercise series brings an average of 6,000-7,000 men and women from 20 states and numerous coalition countries to northern Michigan annually. This creates interoperability between NATO allies, multiple U.S. components and interagency partners.
Now add extreme cold weather conditions to the mix.
Along with synchronizing joint fires for the CALFEX, units must work diligently to make sure their equipment continues to function properly during the subzero conditions. But equipment is only one of the concerns. First line leaders and individuals must also make sure they take care of themselves while braving the freezing temperatures.
“Servicemembers all receive cold weather gear, protective clothing and boots, even sleeping bags with multiple shells,” said Heard. “However, the majority need further training and instruction in how to properly layer that protection.”
Winter Strike provided the opportunity to receive this cold weather instruction, with experts standing by to advise and assist where necessary. In this way, units from across the country can focus on gaining skills within an extreme environment, maintaining individual and combined readiness.
“You must know how the cold weather will affect your equipment and your body,” said Heard. “Knowing how to survive in these conditions is an essential skill for all servicemembers.”
That is the killer combination: combined arms cold weather training and Camp Grayling. Winter Strike offers it all.
The National All-Domain Warfighting Center spans Michigan’s Northern Lower Peninsula, encompassing the capabilities of the 148,000 acre Camp Grayling Maneuver Training Center, the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center and their combined ranges and airspace, the largest overland military operating airspace east of the Mississippi River. This system of training areas is the premier location to replicate the future operating environment, offering integrated training across all domains.