• U.S. Marines participating in the Thunder Reindeer exercise in Setermoen, Norway in late May practice their cold weather survival skills while living in the Arctic. Credit: USMC photo by Lance Cpl. Chase Drayer
     U.S. Marines participating in the Thunder Reindeer exercise in Setermoen, Norway in late May practice their cold weather survival skills while living in the Arctic. Credit: USMC photo by Lance Cpl. Chase Drayer

Success at Thunder Reindeer

December 1, 2020
By Kimberly Underwood
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Even in the summer, Norway offers challenging, rugged terrain that helps hone the cold-weather survival and mountain warfare skills of the U.S. Marines. In May, Marines and sailors with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, along with the Marine Forces Europe and Africa, deployed to northern Norway above the Arctic Circle as part of Marine Rotational Force-Europe (MRF-E) 20.2. The warfighters worked directly with the Norwegian Army to advance their skills and improve allied interoperability, says Lt. Col. Brian Donlon, USMC, commander of 3rd Battalion, who leads the MRF-E contingent.

The ability to train with Norway, the world’s leader in fighting and winning in arctic conditions, was a boon to the U.S. warfighters, the colonel emphasizes. “We were able to learn from and train in Norway with the best in the world and are excited to witness future rotations train in Norway during the robust exercise schedule in the coming year,” Col. Donlon states.

The group also participated in the annual two-week Thunder Reindeer exercise, improving live-fire, combined arms training, interoperability and air integration capabilities. The event combined air, land and sea capabilities from both nations, including Norway’s F-35 Lighting II aircraft in a joint setting at the battalion-level for the first time, reports Lance Cpl. Chase Drayer, USMC, Marine Corps Forces Europe.

Participation in the various bilateral exercises and training events in the Arctic contribute to the lethality and capabilities of the Marine Corps and the NATO Alliance, Col. Donlon continues. “Norway routinely hosts training and exercises with the United States and other allies and partners to support building interoperability with our forces,” the commander observes. “These activities are essential in securing the collective defense of Norway and the Alliance, and we will ensure the readiness and interoperability of our forces to carry out their missions.”

To prepare for their summer rotation in Norway, the 3rd Battalion, also known as V32, conducted a year-long pre-deployment training plan (PTP), including two months of training exercises at the Integrated Training Exercise 1-20 and the Marine Air Ground Task Force Warfighting Exercise 1-20 at Twentynine Palms, California. The PTP prepared the Marines to execute their mission-essential tasks in cold weather while training to fight against peer adversaries, the colonel notes.

Amid the pandemic, the Marines spent 14 days in quarantine when they first arrived in Norway, then set up camp to live in the snowy, rocky conditions and began training with the Norwegians in preparation for Thunder Reindeer. “We were taught how to use our cold-weather gear and execute cold-weather survival methods and cold-weather medicine,” shares Col. Donlon. “Training in the summer is dramatically different than the winter due to the changes in terrain, hours of light and the way these affect the human factors of our Marines. We went from having five-feet of snow and 12 hours of darkness when we arrived to marshy wetlands and 24 hours of daylight just weeks after Thunder Reindeer 20.”

Given the cold weather and mountainous conditions, the Marines had to take extra precautions to protect communications equipment. “While the cold temperatures help cool the equipment and help it run more efficiently, these temperatures can also cause damage if not properly mitigated,” the commander states.

And while the Marines’ current radios are rated for use in extreme cold temperatures, Col. Donlon asks industry to continue to pursue key advancements, given what is at stake with our adversaries. “I believe the best way to support the United States Marine Corps is to keep pushing the boundaries of technology and developing more efficient ways to communicate in a smaller and more agile package,” he offers­­        

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