BREWER, Maine — A group of highly trained soldiers who have special combat training for mountainous terrain and extreme temperatures has new gear and departed Tuesday for a Canadian winter warfare and survival camp to test it.
The 12 New England soldiers — seven from Maine and five from Vermont — are heading to Salluit, Quebec, where the temperature was 30 degrees below zero at noon Tuesday, with a wind chill factor of minus 42 degrees.
“Cold is cold at that point,” Capt. Jason Beams of the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and the Army’s Mountain Warfare school, located in Jericho, Vt., said while the citizen soldiers packed their rucksacks and duffel bags with cold-weather gear provided by the U.S. Army.
Three items in their specialized gear — Gen III Extended Climate Warfighter Clothing System with fire retardant, 3-in-1 sleeping bags and vapor barrier boots — are prototypes developed at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass.
“We’re really testing the limits of what the Army has issued us for equipment,” Beams said.
The extended climate uniforms are nothing new, but they have been improved to protect the wearer, Sgt. First Class Christopher Bushway said.
“It has a fire-retardant outer shell [designed] to mitigate results of an IED,” or improvised explosive device, the sergeant said.
The outer shell of the seven-layer uniforms has a visible metal mesh on the inside.
“It doesn’t breathe as well so we’ll be reporting back on that,” Bushway said.
The clothing, which starts with a base silk-like material layer and builds up to a bulky layer, is “an evolution of clothing based on the civilian market,” the sergeant said.
The soldiers held a gear check Tuesday morning at the Brewer Armory, home of the 172nd Mountain Infantry — the only infantry unit in the state — and left the state later in the day, headed to Valcartier Training Base in Canada to meet up with the 35th Canadian Brigade Group. They will be trained by their Canadian counterparts for a couple of days and be provided with extra gear, including skis and snowshoes, for the weeklong extreme survival training.
“From there we’ll fly on a C-130 to Salluit, Quebec,” Beams said. “We’ll train with the Canadian troops up there and the 2nd Canadian Ranger Patrol group, local Inuits [tribe members] who serve as scouts for the Canadian Army.”
The Mainers also will get to experience cultural activities with the Canadian Rangers who live in a town of about 2,500 people near the Hudson Strait, about 1,000 miles north of the city of Quebec.
“They’ll be giving us the tricks of the trade to provide what it takes to survive up there,” Beams said.
The New England group is made up of soldiers from the 172nd, the 185th Engineer Company, based in Caribou; the 136th Engineer Company, based in Skowhegan; and the Vermont servicemen from the 86th Infantry Brigade.
“We do a cold weather bivouac annually, but it’s not as rough as Salluit,” Beams said. “A lot of it is about gaining confidence in our equipment and its capabilities and a lot of it is about confidence in our training.
“It’s huge for us to test our abilities,” the captain said. “We’re taking it to the next level.”