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My Experience at AMWS
by Cadet Zac Goldman
This past August I attended the United States Army Mountain Warfare School in Jericho, Vermont. Going in I didn't really know what to expect. Most of what I had heard about the school was there was a lot of ruck marching and a lot of knots. I arrived at the school on a Saturday morning, checked in and the rest of the day was ours to do essentially whatever we wanted. They gave us a course handbook, which had everything from the course inside. All of the knots, systems, and key terms we needed to know for the course were in the handbook. They told us from the get-go, that the was different from any other Army school out there. As opposed to Airborne or we weren't going to have PT. We weren't going to get smoked every day. However we could expect to learn all of the skills to be become a basic military mountaineer and the way we would be just as difficult. The first day of the course was basically introductory material in a classroom setting. The next day, is when the ‘real' mountain school started. We moved from the school up to "Castle Rock", one of the training areas at Ethan Allen Firing Range, where the school takes place. We rucked for about an hour with 50+ pounds on our backs and climbed about 200 meters in elevation. You might think that the instructors would ease into the idea of moving in the mountains with a lot of weight on, but that was not the case. We moved close to 4 miles the first day, which made me second guess my abilities. Essentially every day for the next two weeks, we completed what the instructors call "Mountain Travel Techniques", or their way of saying "rucking for an hour".
The Saturday I arrived at AMWS until day ten when testing started, we did many things. We did land navigation with wrist watch altimeters that were given to us. We learned to rappel, top rope climb, and belay in vertical terrain. One day the instructors gave us the opportunity to ruck with body armor on, to give us an idea of what the soldiers in the mountains of Afghanistan experience. That day we moved to Castle Rock and learned a system. Another day we moved to the top of another training area called O.P. Hill where we conducted high angle shooting at targets 500 to 800 meters away with M-4s. All of the experiences helped me become a better soldier and helped me learn more about movement and maneuvering in the mountains.
From the day I arrived at AMWS, I knew we would have seven tests during the last six days of the course. Six of them would be practical, or hands on, and a written exam to accompany the others. We would have to know fifteen knots and their purposes or our knot test and the additional tests would be systems made up of those knots. Going into the course I had no idea what a The other tests were high line, fixed rope, climbing and belaying, and rappelling.knot was, let alone what it was used for! By the time the second Monday rolled around, just ten days into a fourteen day course, we were tested on all the knots and two of the systems. The 3 to 1 pulley system and the MedEvac lowering system were two of the most important systems we were tested on Monday.
All of the tests cumulate to an event the day before graduation called SUMO. Small Unit Mountain Operations (SUMO) is the point where everything we learned is put to the test. We started out by moving to a station where we had to put together a mantle bundle, used for packing materials with pack animals. The next obstacle was to move a casualty more than 800 meters. From there our instructions were to move to an area where we would have to move our entire squad across a vertical danger area or a VDA. We had to set up a rappel line and all of our squad had to rappel down a 60 foot cliff with full gear on. From there we moved to the next obstacle which was to rappel and ascend out of a well to retrieve ropes for our next mission. The next mission was to move our entire element across a pond given only ropes. Finally we had to move to a hilltop and to filter water from a watering hole. Movement back to the school house was the final part of the course. All of the events were navigated by cadets in my squad and lead by NCOs. Our squad finished third out of four squads but the whole experience really put the whole course, everything we learned from the past two weeks, together.