A Snowshoeing Hu-ah: The Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center

“First to fight” – Marines have been in the forefront of every American war since the founding of the Corps. They have carried out over 300 landings on foreign shores. They have served everywhere, from the poles to the tropics. Their record of readiness reflects pride, responsibility and challenge. –Unknown

Faithful to God, country, family and the Corps. Semper fidelis. The Few, the Proud, the Snowshoeing Marines.

As dawn spreads throughout the plains, hills and mountains of the United States, another day of highway traffic, incessant phone conversations, PC worship, sales pitches, and the overall churning of progress continues. The next day, unless it’s a weekend, the inevitable happens…the process is repeated.

But, as minds are numbed from the rat race…the United States Marines are training and perfecting their skills to help install a sense of security and calm during a time of chaos and war. Out at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in California, Marines are instructed on how to contend with even the harshest of conditions and the more extreme elements that Earth has to offer.

No matter the season, the Marines are learning…sharpening their abilities…becoming more proficient. It’s not only about honor it’s about preparedness. And, as another Big Mac is consumed, another BMW is sold, another cell phone loses its signal…the Marines are utilizing snowshoes to break trail and move closer to their desired destination.

“In training, it was one week with poles, next week with snowshoes, last few weeks it was with cross-country skis,” said Marc Jones, former Sergeant, 3/7 Lima Company, U.S. Marines. “They really focused on that training in case we had to fight an arctic battle. In reality, would the military use snowshoes? Yes. Terrain would dictate the use of snowshoes; cross-country skis are faster, but there is consistency with snowshoes.”

During his time at the Training Center, Jones was issued a pair of military snowshoes, which were reminiscent of older-model wood-frame snowshoes. However, the snowshoes utilized by the Marines during training were made of Magnesium and galvanized aircraft cable covered with nylon. The bindings were constructed with simple nylon straps that efficiently held a pair of military-issued boots.

According to the Marines, the advantages of using snowshoes include the little training time required to gain proficiency, the small amount of maintenance required, the ease of carrying and pulling heavy loads, and the ease of movement in confined areas and around equipment (such as bivouac sites and supply dumps). Snowshoes are also helpful to drivers, gun crews, cooks and other support personnel.

The disadvantages of using snowshoes in military applications is the rate of movement: Difficulty of movement on moderate to steep slopes, movement through thick or cut-off brush is difficult and the impediments of quick movements that are needed during fires and more.

Marines have utilized three types of snowshoes for training and combat, including magnesium, assault, and improvised. The magnesium snowshoe is the lightest and most durable of the three styles (those used by Jones during his training). The nylon bindings used with magnesium snowshoes are adaptable to all types of issued footwear. Plus, magnesium snowshoes have teeth under the sides, which are intended to aid traction.

The assault snowshoe, or known as a “bear paw,” is short, wide and oval in shape, with no tail. It is best utilized when working near equipment and heavy weapons (it offers little floatation).

Taught throughout warfare training, improvised snowshoes may be constructed by forming a frame from green, flexible branches, then weaving string (550 cord) wire or branches to form a supporting surface. Or, a satisfactory pair of snowshoes can be made by tying branches from thick fir, or spruce trees, to your foot. A very simple sasquatch binding can be made with a short length of cord or wire.

Sources in the snowshoe industry said that members of the military were issued pairs of Atlas-made snowshoes for combat in Afghanistan. According to the Christian Science Monitor, U.S. Army forces trained on specially designed snowmobiles, called MOSTs (mobile over the snow transport) as well as on snowshoes and skis during their time in the once Taliban-ruled country.

Although the snowshoe applications that the Marines utilize at the Training Center are somewhat outdated (in comparison to the snowshoes manufactured for recreational use today), the durability issues are virtually nil. And, Jones continues to use his military-issued snowshoes for recreation and leisure.

“I preferred snowshoeing over cross-country skiing,” said Jones. “With snowshoeing, I loved it. It came so natural to me, but of course if you can walk, you can snowshoe.”

For more information on the Mountain Warfare Training Center, visit http://www.mwtc.usmc.mil.


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