Somewhere Warm …Please
The 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) is a light infantry division in the United States Army based at Fort Drum, New York. Designated as a mountain warfare unit, the division is the only one of its size in the US military to receive intense specialized training for fighting in mountainous and arctic conditions.
Staff Sergeant Rudy Galvin and Sergeant 1st Class John Delaney were senior instructors at the two-week Basic Mountain Course at the Army Mountain Warfare School, Camp Ethan Allen Training Site, Jericho, Vermont.
A reporter and photographer from Men’s Journal magazine had been authorized by Army Public Affairs to go through the course and do an in depth article on the school, instructors and the training program. The culminating climb of the program was at Smugglers’ Notch.
Sergeant Delaney addressed the class, “This final climb is known as the ‘Mountain Walk,’ and will put all of the skills that you have learned throughout the course into practice. It’s a chance to get into a true alpine environment and see rock and ice that you haven’t seen anywhere else. It is a full-on mountaineering and alpine experience and when you leave here, you will be true military mountaineers.”
The twenty four man class made first camp at the base of the notch, at approximately the 2,200-foot elevation and set up two 12-man arctic tents to sleep in. They packed in arctic stoves to combat the minus 20-degree weather, but they didn’t do much heating with the high winds at night.
The next morning, Staff Sergeant Galvin led the soldiers through an ice climbing practice at the “workout wall,” which tested their ability to top-rope climb using ice axes and crampons, (spikes attached to their climbing boots). “This exercise has a two-fold purpose, it teaches you how natural ice reacts to climbing tools, but also helps to keep you warm during the day,” he said.
As they began preparing for the actual Mountain Walk, the two squads ascended 1,000 feet up a slope that led around a sharp mountain ridge and through a cave toward the summit. Then, the soldiers conducted an 85-foot rappel off an icy rock face.
“Communication within our squad plays a huge role as we are climbing, because we have to talk to the person behind us to tell them when we are ‘hooked onto’ the next portion of a fixed rope, therefore allowing them to clip into that portion of the rope,” Sergeant 1st Class Delaney reminded the trainees, “so stay in touch at all times.”
The squads planted their crampons into sheer ice as they climbed and knocked off large bits of ice, so there were constant shouts of ‘ice!’ as they ascended to warn those below.’s
John Delaney grew up in Burlington, Vermont and the panoramic view from the top of the Talus slope never ceased to amaze him, no matter how many times he made the climb. His squad had no problem reaching the summit over the course of four hours and Staff Sergeant Galvin and his men were only twenty minutes behind them. It was a methodical and successful venture and had it been untrained civilians operating for the first time in mountainous terrain, it could have been disastrous, but overall, the ascent was tough, but very conquerable for reasonably fit soldiers.
In the beginning, it took some time for the trainees to get used to the mountaineering equipment, especially the boots, which are hard plastic and looked similar to ski boots and prevented the soldiers from rolling their ankles on the varied terrain. The lack of snow and the presence of ice-covered rock made movements difficult for the men, but the more they trained with the equipment, the easier it became to increase mobility. The course also taught soldiers land navigation skills, using a self-declination compass and an altimeter, and high-angle marksmanship, where the class shot from modified positions on a cliff edge.
They fired M4s’ with ACOG (advanced combat optical gun sight), and the spotter walked them in on targets up to 600 meters away. Sergeant Delaney reminded the class, “Because of the elevation and temperature, the bullet has a slightly abnormal trajectory and lands higher than usual, so aim slightly lower and calculate for the distance. This exercise gave the soldiers confidence in their ability to hit targets over the typical 300 meter distance in a very realistic mountainous terrain scenario that they might encounter overseas in combat situations.
The notion of operating and moving in a mountainous environment seems very simple at first glance, but Sergeants Delaney and Galvin focused on instilling a sense of sagacious perfection in all tasks. When soldiers’ lives are hooked into a rope system, there is no such thing as ‘this should hold’. Tying knots in the barracks is one thing, it’s a whole different situation when a soldier has to do it in sub-freezing temperatures with a full load of equipment and clothing that affects their movement and concentration. The course was also designed to allow soldiers an opportunity to climb and hike just as their 10th Mountain predecessors had done before them in locations around the world. Delaney and Galvin were professional and patient and were the best of the Mountain Warfare instructors.
The graduating class and the two instructors had a celebratory dinner at Jericho Café and Tavern that evening and afterward the soldiers went back to Fort Drum and their perspective units and the reporter and photographer from Men’s Journal thanked Delaney and Galvin before leaving for New York City.
Three weeks later, Sergeants Delaney and Galvin were called to the office of the Commanding Officer of the 10th Mountain Division, Major General Walter E. Piatt.
“At ease Sergeants,” Major General Piatt ordered.
The two men immediately shifted from their attention stance.
“I just received word from the Pentagon that the reporter submitted a copy of his story for their review,” Neither soldier had any reaction, “Aren’t you curious what he wrote?” Major General Piatt asked.
“No sir, that’s not in our job description, sir” Sergeant Delaney responded.
“The reporter was extremely impressed by the course, but he was even more impressed by your professionalism and dedication,” Major General Piatt said.
“We didn’t do anything except treat him and his photographer exactly like we did the soldiers in the class,” Sergeant Galvin interjected.
“They specialize in adventure writing so they were well-conditioned and experienced in a variety of hostile environments so it wasn’t like we had to babysit them. They were definitely up to the task.” Sergeant Delaney added.
“Whatever way you chose to deal with them, it was the right way. The Army is grateful and wanted me to find a way to reward you for a job well done,” Major General Piatt said.
“That’s not necessary sir,” Sergeant Delaney replied.
“Humor me, Sergeants, I have a boss too and I don’t want to tell him that I didn’t do what I was told,” Major General Piatt said, “You don’t want to get me in trouble, do you?”
Sergeant Galvin quickly responded, “Absolutely not, sir.”
“I found something that you might like,” Major Piatt said then called out, “Lieutenant Huntsman, could you come in here.”
A young Army lieutenant was in the office in less than three seconds, “Yes sir.”
“Tell the sergeants what you found for them,” Major General Piatt ordered.
“Yes sir,” Lieutenant Huntsman responded and began to explain, “ Forsvarets Spesialkommando (FSK) English translation: Armed Forces’ Special Command, is a special operations forces unit of the Norwegian Special Operation Forces. The unit was established in 1982 due to the increased risk of terrorist activity against Norwegian interests, including the oil platforms in the North Sea and tourism on the mainland. On 1 January 2014, the Norwegian Special Operation Forces (NORSOF) united the FSK and the Navy Special Operation Command under the one command in the Norwegian Armed Forces. In the same year FSK established an all-female commando unit, Jegerttroppen, translation Jeger troop.”
“You’ve given them the background, now tell them their assignment,” Major General Piatt said.
“Yes sir…the Norway military has requested combat experienced instructors to speak to their all-female unit.”
“I’ll take it from here,” Major General Piatt interjected, “Under our reciprocal agreement, with NATO, we are always happy to assist our allies. Norway will pay for your flight and provide accommodations and when you’re finished with your assignment, you can take an extra couple of weeks to enjoy the local culture.”
“When do we leave?” Sergeant Delaney asked.
“Wheels up in 48 hours, Lieutenant Huntsman has your travel orders.”
Two days later, Sergeants Delaney and Galvin were on a flight from JFK International to Oslo, Norway. When they arrived they were met by Captain Erika Braw and Lieutenant Angelica Waatland, two tall blonde Nordic women who looked more like models than commandos. Captain Braw briefed the two Americans on the 88 mile trip from Oslo to Elverum where the female unit was stationed, “One of the advantages that we have is our program is strictly tailored for female operators. At the end of our one-year program, our female soldiers are just as capable as their male counterparts and can do the same tasks.”
When they arrived at Terningmoen Camp, Captain Braw turned to the Americans, “How do you want to do this?”
“Why don’t we just observe, and if we see anything that might help, we’ll mention it to you,” Sergeant Delaney answered, “If it isn’t broken, why fix it.”
“I like that plan,” Captain Braw smiled.
For the next three days, Delaney and Galvin watched the female unit as they parachuted out of military aircraft, skied in the Arctic Tundra and navigated through the wilderness. During a break in the training drills, the unit relaxed around a campfire.
“You haven’t said much,” Lieutenant Waatland commented as she sat down next to the Americans.
“I told Captain Braw that if we saw something that we could help you with,” Sergeant Delaney began, but before he could continue.
“Your unit can climb, ski and deal with the elements as well as any men that we’ve ever served with,” Sergeant Galvin praised.
“About the only place we might be of help, is to share our combat experiences in alpine and mountainous terrain and then you can make a decision if you want to add anything to your current training curriculum,” Sergeant Delaney added.
About that same time, Interpol intercepted an ISIS terrorist traveling through Germany and in his possession was information about an impending terrorist attack in Norway. The Intel was vague and did not indicate a specific target, but it was credible enough to notify the Norwegian authorities. Male military units were quickly deployed to the oil platforms in the North Sea as well as the cities of Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Stavanger.
The female unit was assigned protection of five fjords. When Captain Braw started going over the strategic deployment with her troops, Sergeant Delaney offered, “Maybe I can finally find a way to help.”
“It would be greatly appreciated,” Captain Braw responded, “What do you need first for that to happen?”
“Tell me about the fjords, their historical and strategic value,” Sergeant Delaney said.
“Lysefjorden, its name translated to Light Fjord because it is surrounded by light colored granite rocks. It is 42 kilometers long and is one of the most popular fjords in Norway because of its iconic landmarks such as Pulpit Rock.
Sergeant Delaney looked at the map, “I would focus my attention on Pulpit Rock. Fifteen troops in a 360 perimeter should be enough for a recon of the entire area.”
“Affirmative,” Captain Braw responded, “Tell me what you think about number two, Sognesford is our longest (203km) and deepest (1308m) fjord in Norway. It has steep cliffs, crystal clear water, orchard farms, and small villages by the water’s edge.”
“I wouldn’t think that terrorists would focus on this one, but if you wanted to be safe, I’d put five women on the highest cliff for surveillance,” Sergeant Delaney suggested.
“Hardangerfjord is 179 km long, the second largest fjord in the country and the third largest on the planet. It has cascading waterfalls, cliffs and beautiful views.”
“Same with this one, too big and no specific target worth blowing up,” Sergeant Delaney commented.
“What’s your opinion about Geiranger? It is only 15 kilometers long and has the Seven Sisters and the Suitor and Bridal Veil waterfalls. They are very important to the people of Norway because they have a spiritual significance,” Captain Braw stated.
“I would definitely focus on this one, anything else?” Sergeant Delaney asked.
Captain Braw said, “Magdalenefjord is located west of Spitsbergen and away from the mainland of Norway and is in the arctic.”
“Is that it?”
“There is one other thing; it is where the Oldenburg Pinnacle, a towering monument of blue and silver granite that honored the House of Oldenburg who ruled Norway from 1450 to 1814. It is a thousand feet high and located near the Jostedal Glacier. It is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and to destroy it would be devastating and demoralizing to the people of Norway.”
“I think you’ve got your answer, Captain,” Sergeant Delaney said.
When Sergeant Delaney exited the company headquarters of the Norwegian unit, he was intercepted by Sergeant Galvin, “Where have you been, I’ve been looking for you?”
“I’ll explain it on the way,” Sergeant Delaney answered.
“Are we going somewhere?”
“We have a mission.”
Several helicopters took off from Camp Terningmoen with the female commandos. The last two choppers had Sergeants Delaney and Galvin, Captain Braw, Lieutenant Waatland with a platoon of armed women as passengers. It was only 164 miles from Elverum to the Jostedal Glacier and they had been in the air forty three minutes, when the pilot made an announcement, “Got confirmation on twenty bogeys.”
Captain Braw unbuckled from her jump seat and went up to the cockpit to take a look, “Get us to the north side of the glacier.”
The helicopters pilot changed direction and when it reached the area in question, it hovered and Delaney, Galvin and the women fast roped out of the choppers to the ice below. For as far as the eye could see, there was nothing, but ice and snow. Once they were on the deck, the two Americans and Norwegians roped together and double checked their gear that included; ice axe, harness, screwgate krab, ice screw, 120cm sling, three prussic loops, pulley, three spare karabiners and weapons. They had to move quickly, but also had to be extremely aware of falling into an ice crevasse. Captain Braw took the lead and the group headed in the direction that would intercept the terrorists before they reached the Oldenburg Pinnacle. They moved as quickly as humanly possible over the difficult and dangerous terrain.
The terrorists had trained for several months during the winter months, at the highest elevation of the Hindu Hush Mountains in Pakistan to prepare for this attack. They were very good, almost as good as the Americans and Norwegians.
Captain Braw consulted with Sergeants Delaney and Galvin as she looked through her binoculars as snow flurries began to fall and the wind increased, “There they are, I could use your combat experience right about now.”
Sergeant Galvin looked up at the sheer ice covered cliff that jutted into the darkening skies and then to the valley before them, “We can go down the valley and come up on their flank, or we can climb up and meet them head on. We have a storm coming and being this close to the arctic it could be a rough one so we need to move quickly.”
Captain Braw needed less than a second to make her decision, “We’re going up.”
The group climbed up the side of the ice cliff and when they got to the top, the wind was blowing much harder and the temperature was falling rapidly. It was already five below zero and that was not factoring in the wind chill index. The Oldenburg Pinnacle was three hundred yards behind them and the terrorists were struggling up the steep incline, directly in front of them.
“We’re going to be in whiteout conditions very soon and we need to find shelter before the full force of the storm hits,” Captain Braw warned.
Sergeant Delaney looked down the icy slope then turned to Staff Sergeant Galvin, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Probably not, unless you’re thinking about sunny and warm Oceanside, California where I grew up and spent many a wonderful day on Buccaneer Beach.”
“Stay in the moment!” Sergeant Delaney scolded his buddy, “You can stroll down memory lane when the mission is completed!”
Sergeant Galvin snapped his fingers, “Momentary lapse, I’m back now.”
“Tell the women to set us two anchor points,” Sergeant Delaney ordered.
When the terrorists got within two hundred yards from the top, Sergeants Delaney and Galvin lied face up on their solar blankets and made sure that the ropes were securely tied to their harnesses “You ready?” Sergeant Delaney asked.
“This sounded a lot more feasible a few minutes ago,” Sergeant Galvin replied.
“If it doesn’t work, you can say, I told you so.”
They had their M-4 rifles lying across their chests and were ready to slide down the icy slope when Captain Braw smiled, “If this works, I will be very impressed.”
“See you when I see you,” Sergeant Delaney pushed off and Sergeant Galvin was a split second behind him.
The two Americans careened down the icy slope like two children on their sleds on the neighborhood hill. Delaney was on the right and Galvin was on the left and when they passed the terrorist column, they opened fire and caught them in a murderous crossfire. When they ran out of rope, the two Americans were abruptly yanked to a stop, ten feet from careening off the edge of the cliff. By the time the remaining terrorists recovered from the surprise attack, they were killed by suppressive fire from the female commandos.
Staff Sergeant Galvin got to his feet, “Don’t ever ask me to do that again.”
“Roger that,” Sergeant First Class Delaney responded as he gave the thumbs up signal to the female commandos.”
The Oldenburg Pinnacle was saved and the two Americans made their way back up the slope and joined up with the Norwegians, then hiked to the monument and quickly set up camp. They used the massive structure as a lifesaving barrier against the gale force winds. It was three long and bitter cold days later before the storm subsided enough for helicopters to fly in and extract them.
Two weeks later, the Americans were ready to return to the United States after being shown around Norway by their personal tour guides, Captain Erika Braw and Lieutenant Angelica Waatland. Their relationship had evolved from Military Mountaineers to something more personal by this time.
“Do you think that if we came to America, you could show us around?” Captain Braw asked.
“Absolutely!” Sergeant Delaney responded without hesitation.
“You can count on it,” Sergeant Galvin added, “Anyplace you want to go.”
The snow began to fall heavily and the wind howled as the two couples stood outside the airport terminal in Oslo and exchanged farewell embraces and passionate kisses.
“One thing though,” Lieutenant Waatland quipped, “Someplace warm…please.”