Local expert, Thomas Halverson, shows members of the Anchorage FBI Special Weapons and Tactics team how to build simple fire starters made from cotton balls and petroleum jelly. He also taught arctic survival skills like, snares, and cave shelters during a week-long cold weather survivability course put together for the team, by the Northern Warfare Training Center, U.S. Army Alaska’s premiere cold weather and mountaineering school. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Trish McMurphy, USARAK Public Affairs)
HEADQUARTERS, U.S. ARMY ALASKA, FORT WAINWRIGHT, ALASKA ― As U.S. Army Alaska’s missions grow and expand, so too does its partnerships and ties with allies abroad and at home.
Recently a team of nine Anchorage FBI agents, assigned to FBI Anchorage Special Weapons and Tactics team, reached out to USARAK and its Northern Warfare Training Center, the Army’s premiere cold-weather training school, for assistance in obtaining Arctic mobility and survivability skills.
“The Anchorage FBI was trying to get some cold-weather training specific to survival and over snow mobility,” said 1st Lt. David Brandle, NWTC special projects officer. “Before we even go outside, we [go] through all the basic platform classroom classes that anyone that comes to NWTC gets. It doesn’t matter if they are Army, Marine Corps or FBI ― they are getting those classes because that gives them the Arctic knowledge they need.”
This was the first time the local FBI team reached out for assistance with Arctic survival skills and the NWTC was happy to help.
The school teaches such things as basic cold weather survival skills in the Cold Weather Leaders Course during the winter, and the more advanced summer Assault Climber Course that shows soldiers how to traverse technically difficult mountain terrain requiring the use of rope and a belay or anchor point to ensure safety.
According to Brandle, developing new courses based on special requests is nothing new to the NWTC, best known for teaching cold weather and mountaineering courses to USARAK units.
“We tailored this training program for them, focusing on [mobility] in and out of remote Alaskan villages,” said Brandle. “We focused on snow machine basics, snow machine recovery, what extra equipment they would need if they were doing a long movement, like belts and spark plugs, and advanced snow machine techniques in deep snow.”
Sam Benson, senior team leader of the Anchorage FBI SWAT, said he was asked by their leadership, “What’s our Arctic capability?” And at that time the reply was ― “insufficient.”
“Our Arctic capability extended as far as our clothing and very basic cold-weather training. We had no expertise,” said Benson.
According to the FBI website, all 56 field offices have SWAT units that train for serious encounters with criminals and extremely high-risk situations.
Benson said that one of the biggest differences in Alaska is the accessibility to all of the remote villages and cabins spread throughout the state. He said the majority of felons in the U.S. flee to large cities, whereas in Alaska they could hole up in a cabin or local village that may not be accessible by road during the winter.
“If it’s outside the bowl of Anchorage in mid-winter, we would face severe planning and operational challenges in responding,” he said. “We are working on expanding our capabilities.”
Benson, a former Army officer, knew about the NWTC and set the ball in motion.
“I knew about the Northern Warfare Training Center from being in the Army, so we called and started working out the plans,” he said.
The NWTC created a one-week course to enhance the FBI team’s cold weather mobility and survivability in order to expand their reach into the remote areas of Alaska.
The team learned about cold weather clothing, cold-weather injuries and how to treat and transport cold weather injury casualties, how to operate and maintain a snow machine and how to move through and recover snow machines in deep snow.