Arctic Warfare Instructors Offer Advice for Weathering Polar Temperatures

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February 1, 2019 | Originally published by Date Line: February 1 on

A flat tire sidelined Maj. Chad Peltier’s vehicle in minus 22-degree weather recently as he was on his way to pick up his wife, but he knew exactly how to handle the situation.

“I take two lug nuts off, get back in the car (to warm up), take two lug nuts off, get back in the car,” said Peltier, who leads the Army’s cold-weather training center in Alaska. “It’s the longest tire change I’ve ever experienced, but I didn’t get a cold-weather injury.”

It’s no harrowing Arctic survival tale, but Peltier, commandant of the Fairbanks-based Northern Warfare Training Center, said in a phone interview that “surviving” the cold isn’t the point. “Thriving in that environment is what we’re really aiming for.”

The polar vortex has brought record-shattering Arctic temperatures to the Midwest, Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic this week; meanwhile, snowy conditions are impacting U.S. military bases in generally temperate parts of Europe and Asia.

In light of that, Peltier and other cold-weather operations veterans had a few “pro tips” for staying warm and safe in the biting cold.

“A lot of it’s common sense, but sometimes it’s not so common,” said Bill Hamilton, a Marine Corps veteran who spent more than five years as an instructor at the service’s Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Calif. Now a contractor and Army reservist, he teaches a cold-weather operations course at Fort McCoy, Wis.

All of the experts recommended dressing in clean, loose-fitting layers that allow for good circulation and movement. The Army, for example, has a seven-layer cold-weather clothing system with silk-weight long underwear as its base, another midweight underlayer, a fleece jacket and successive outer layers of wind and waterproof jackets.

Similar gear can be found on the civilian side, including lightweight, moisture-wicking athletic clothing for the base layer, said Joe Ernst, an Army veteran who’s now a cold-weather trainer at Fort McCoy. He recommended merino wool for its moisture-wicking and insulating properties.