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Marine Corps Invests Millions in New Skis for Cold Weather Training

NATO troops participate in the 9th International NCO Winter Camp March 11-18, 2016, in Pokljuka, Slovenia. (NATO photo)
NATO troops participate in the 9th International NCO Winter Camp March 11-18, 2016, in Pokljuka, Slovenia. (NATO photo)

VAERNES GARRISON, Norway -- Scout snipers, reconnaissance Marines, and some infantrymen, along with members of the Marine Corps' new rotational force in Norway, will soon receive new ski systems to replace old equipment that broke and tore in the cold.

On a brief visit to the 300-strong Marine Corps Rotational Force-Europe, located at a Norwegian Home Guard base near Trondheim, Commandant Gen. Robert Neller announced that the unit would be the first to receive the new equipment.

It comes not quite in time for Christmas, but ahead of upcoming cold-weather training exercises above the Arctic Circle.

"I talked to the Norwegian colonel. I told him, no Marine is going to leave here unless they know how to ski," Neller told Marines assembled in the winter dark Wednesday morning, referring to Home Guard District 12 Commander Col. Haakon Waroe. "You're going to get your skis here in about a week, so get ready."

The Marines will get the NATO ski system, Lt. Col. Chris Madeline, program manager for infantry combat equipment at Marine Corps Systems Command, told Military.com in a statement.

The ASNES Combat NATO ski, at the heart of the system, was developed specifically for the Norwegian military, which has a long tradition of cold-weather training. The system includes a flexible binding and a versatile "ski march" boot.

When the first rotation of Marines arrived in Norway in January, they came with equipment from the service's aging inventory of cold weather gear.

When pack frames snapped in the cold and bulky extreme cold weather boots separated from ski bindings as Marines trained in harsh conditions, responses were emotional.

"I wouldn't give anybody that ski setup that we had," Staff Sgt. Nelson Acevedo, a platoon sergeant on the deployment, told Military.com in May. "When you're putting your boots into the bindings, because the bindings are metal and the boots are old rubber, they rip a lot. So now you're potentially causing injuries to the individual from the cold now being able to seep through."

At the time, Marine Corps Systems Command officials said plans for new skis and ski boots for the unit were in the works. But now it's clear the fielding plan goes beyond equipping the small rotational force.

Madeline said scout snipers, reconnaissance Marines, and one infantry company in every battalion would be fitted out with the NATO ski system. The Marine Corps plans to invest $7 million this fiscal year out of the approximately $12.75 million in total it plans to spend on skis.

In all, Madeline said, the service will buy 2,648 sets of skis, with fielding set to begin at the end of calendar year 2018.

"Marine Corps Systems Command is seeking funding in fiscal 2019 to complete procurement and field the remaining systems," he said.

Improving cold-weather training for a Marine Corps acclimated to the desert has been a key objective for Neller and a primary reason for the establishment of the new rotational force.

In recent addresses, the commandant has emphasized the need for Marines to be prepared for a future fight, potentially with a peer or near-peer competitor. Notably, Russia and North Korea, two of the major power competitors that U.S. defense officials discuss, have climates that include extreme and punishing cold.

On Wednesday, Neller warned Marines that they had to be prepared for a spectrum of missions, adding that they might be called upon to act with little advance notice.

"If we are who we say we are, which is the nation's force in readiness, we have to be ready," he said.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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