Tucked high in the frigid, snow-covered Andes Mountains, U.S. Army soldiers assigned to the 10th Mountain Division completed the 13-day Southern Vanguard training exercise August 30 with the Chilean Army.
In coordination with U.S. Army South, the approximately 120 10th Mountain Division soldiers found themselves at an altitude of more than 9,200 feet, with high winds and temperatures below freezing, learning the basics of cold weather, mountain warfare, including the fundamentals of survival, movement, and combat from instructors at the Chilean Army Mountain School.
“The Chilean Army mountaineer is a highly trained expert in their craft and well versed in the challenges associated with conducting military operations in a cold weather, high altitude environment,” said Major Matthew McCarty, Army South plans and operations officer in charge of Exercise Southern Vanguard 21. “It is an expertise that is being passed on to U.S. soldiers with 10th Mountain Division.”
The exercise culminated with a two-day field training exercise including a mock-rescue operation of a downed medical aircraft with 40 Chilean soldiers and a fraternity hike where Chilean and U.S. soldiers marched more than 5 miles through the snow to the Christ the Redeemer of the Andes monument on the border with Argentina.
This was the largest U.S. Army element to conduct this training, and its purpose was to bring the 10th Mountain Division back to its historical roots and demonstrate operational readiness, regional unity, and affirm the U.S. Army’s longstanding commitment to our partners in the Western Hemisphere, according to Maj. McCarty.
“U.S. Army South, the 10th Mountain Division and the Chilean Army, have been planning this exercise since February 2020 through multiple virtual and in-person meetings,” said Maj. McCarty.
The planning by all was a major portion of Southern Vanguard, but once on the ground, the Chilean Army partners took the reins for daily execution given their familiarity with the terrain and weather conditions.
“Training in this environment makes the soldier fight with two enemies, the enemy combatant and the environment,” said Chilean Army Captain Carlos Williams Cuevas, commander of training at the Chilean Army Mountain School. “Every day, we had a briefing at 20:00 to discuss the weather and how we need to adjust based on training and safety requirements.”
Even with all the mental work that went into planning, the physical work for the soldiers and the conditions on the ground were daunting. Despite the freezing temperatures and rough terrain, the soldiers appeared very positive with regard to the environment.
“We’ve been training the last six months for this tremendous opportunity; they said it was going to be tough, and they were right,” said U.S. Army Specialist Dustin Tschudy, an infantryman with Bravo Co. 2-87. “I’m always going to remember this experience and the training we did here, and I’ll pass the lessons we learned on to other soldiers.”
Soldiers completed courses in downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, avalanche rescue, snow shelter construction, rappelling, and medical evacuation over the course of six days before going on a two-day field training exercise.
The Chilean Army instructors played an integral part in training and sharing techniques and experience with U.S. soldiers, providing them with the basic skills to survive, move, fight, and win in a high-altitude environment.
“The Chilean instructors have been nothing but professional, and they are really good at making sure we understand, at the lowest level, how to do whatever task we are completing,” said U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Corey Irwin, a platoon leader assigned to Bravo Co. 2-87. “With training like this, we can take soldiers with little to no experience with the snow and make them confident and competent in a winter environment.”
The 10th Mountain Division originally specialized in mountain warfare dating back to World War II, but since their reactivation in 1985, the division has focused on combat operations in a variety of geographical terrains. The training provided by Southern Vanguard 21 is an opportunity to get back to the division’s roots.
“We are the mountain division, and we are evolving into the arctic division, so we are getting back to fighting in the cold weather and the mountains,” said U.S. Army Command Sergeant Major Michael Espeland, Command Sergeant Major of 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. “We are learning a great deal here; how to live and train in the mountains from the Chilean Army.”
This exercise was a direct reflection of the U.S. Army’s commitment to strengthen an enduring partnership with Chile and build combined readiness and interoperability in both planning and execution.