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 Aug. 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. It is an expertise that is being passed on to U.S. Soldiers with the 10th Mountain Division. 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. Matthew McCarty, Army South plans and operations officer.
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 five 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 affirm the U.S. Army’s longstanding commitment to U.S. partners in the Western Hemisphere.
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. 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.
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 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 bet back to the division’s roots. 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.