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NEWS | Jan. 26, 2022

Northern Strike “Ice bath:” military, local emergency responders team up for hypothermia training

By Capt. Andrew Layton Michigan National Guard Public Affairs

Special Operations forces from the U.S. Army’s 20th Special Forces Group, Massachusetts Army National Guard, teamed up Jan. 24 with local first responders from Crawford, Grand Traverse, Muskegon and Roscommon counties to perform intensive hypothermia training at Lake Margrethe near Camp Grayling. The event took place during Northern Strike 22-1 (”Winter Strike”), a National Guard Bureau-sponsored exercise held Jan. 21-30 with participants from several U.S. states and partner nations at Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center and Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, Michigan, which together comprise the National All-Domain Warfighting Center (NADWC).

“This rigorous training scenario instills the skill and mental tenacity required to survive one of the most dangerous scenarios posed by Arctic conditions: full submersion into a frozen lake,” said Scott Martzke, emergency management program coordinator for the Michigan Army National Guard. “This event also spotlights the vital importance of emergency management programs and the ability for emergency managers from multiple agencies to work together and support agency planning, training, and exercise needs.”

During the two-hour training window, participants plunged through a pair of six-foot by six-foot holes in the ice, remaining in the water to ensure breathing control and focus before recovering from the lake on their own. Participants then moved to the shoreline where they began post-exposure procedures to prevent injury. These included application of high-quality cold weather gear and proper techniques to manage body heat and perspiration.

“This Northern Strike ice training was a unique opportunity for our divers and ice rescue personnel to participate in extreme cold weather training, to share information and experience, and to learn and coordinate efforts in a rare collaboration of specialists,” said Roscommon County Undersheriff Benjamin Lowe.

The training, referred to by participants as the “ice bath,” was overseen by survival and winter warfare instructors from the U.S. Army and the Swedish Air Force. A total of sixteen personnel took part.

“The ‘ice bath’ training was a great opportunity for the Northern Michigan Mutual Dive Teams to come together for a training scenario,” said Lt. Chris Oosse, Grand Traverse County Sheriff's Office. “The training gives us an understanding of each team's manpower, equipment and capabilities. We are proud to share our cold weather rescue and survival knowledge and experience with our military forces.”

The NADWC encompasses nearly 148,000 acres of training area and is frequently used by law enforcement and emergency management agencies in addition to military personnel from across the Department of Defense and partner nations. Winter Strike and the NADWC both serve as a cost and time-effective way for units to train in extreme cold weather situations.

“This training was invaluable for the first responders. Ice training usually does not include being able to witness participants that are not in any type of protective gear. The training exposed the first responders to the way a person reacts during a cold water submersion and the initial cold shock effects,” said Deputy John Yax, Muskegon County Sheriff’s Office. “Our ice instructors will be able to take this knowledge forward when they teach and train in the future. The training was also a perfect platform to share and build cooperation and teamwork strategies between multiple agencies.”

“The Ice Bath event at Camp Grayling will supply the needed visuals that will help educate and prepare responders in the event that a situation like this ever does occur,” said Doug Pratt, Crawford County emergency management director. “Trainings such as these prepare participants to safely and effectively respond to rescue and recovery incidents on and through the ice, as well as in, on and around cold water. This event will give agencies the ability to pre-plan so they have the practical skills, self-awareness and resources available to help save lives.”

In addition to enhancing our nation’s defense and readiness capabilities, the Northern Strike exercise series also serves as an important boost to the local economy. It brings an average of $30 million to Michigan’s economy annually in military pay, travel, and local spending in northern Michigan.

“We’ve never done anything like this in these conditions at Camp Grayling before, with participants from the military and our local emergency management services working together for mutual benefit,” said U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Lee Fuller, Northern Strike safety director. “The ‘ice bath’ event is a true win-win because it enhances both military readiness and the National All-Domain Warfighting Center’s connection to our surrounding communities.”