SEPTEMBER 2, 2016, RIO BLANCO, Chile – In August, 21 Texas National Guard members successfully completed the grueling “Escuela de Montaña” Chilean Mountain School short course.
The course is a condensed two-week version of the school’s four-month-long mountain warfare course, which is similar to U.S. Army Ranger School, according to 1st. Lt. Michael A. Affeldt, scout platoon leader of the 1st Battalion (Airborne) 143rd Infantry Regiment and officer in charge of the Texas military exchange for the course.
“So it’s a pretty prestigious course to go through in Chile,” Affeldt said.
To qualify for the course, which tests basic competencies on movement, maneuvering and life-saving techniques in spring and winter mountain terrain, the Guardsmen had to score at least a 290 on the Army Physical Fitness Test, speak Spanish, and have previous experience in cold weather and mountain terrain.
“The course starts off in Rio Blanco, which is at the base of the mountains,” said Texas Army National Guard Cpl. Nicholas C. Graff, fire team leader with the 143rd Infantry Regiment. “It was 30 degrees at night and 65 degrees during the day.”
The first phase focused on summer climbing techniques such as rock climbing, rappelling, ascending and water crossings.
“We practiced pack animal training so we used mules,” Graff said. “They use mules to carry gear where they can’t get vehicles.”
The second phase involved winter operations such as, cross-country ski, downhill skiing, medevac and foreign weapons familiarization. At night in the 7-degree mountain climate, they dug ice caves to sleep in. Affeldt said his Soldiers maintained their perseverance throughout the course.
“Downhill skiing was a struggle in itself. Then they threw in cross-country skiing, which is a little bit more difficult,” Affeldt said. “So the first day everyone was kind of looking like Bambi, but by the end of the week we were able to climb up mountain and do a company exercise.”
The Texas National Guard and Chile have been working together since 2009 though the National Guard State Partnership Program, which connects a state’s National Guard with a partner nation’s military forces and government agencies in a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship.
“[It allows us] to take soldiers from across the division and entire state and send them to an environment to train in that we don’t have the ability to train in,” said Affeldt.
“Now we have Soldiers coming back that understand how to do operations in cold weather climates, mountainous terrain and how to deal with adversity in different environments.”
Last year, the Texas Military Department conducted 14 military exchanges with Chilean partners that included engineering, medical and disaster response as well as the best warrior competition.
“It’s crazy that the soldier mentality transfers that far,” Graff said. “They like to train, they like to go hard everyone seemed to get along really well. The best thing we did was build relationships down … I made some good friends.”
The Texas Military Department is scheduled to host their Chilean partners this November at a search and rescue training at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas.