Camaraderie keeps troops warm during winter exercise

One thing I have learned through my personal interactions with soldiers of other nations is that we all share universal traits, dislikes and jargon.

We hate being in the field in cold weather and other austere climate conditions.

While taking photos of Norwegian army engineers during a pause in their maneuvers as part of the Cold Response 2010 exercise, I had a chance to exchange dialogue about things that only troops discuss when we “close ranks” among ourselves, away from our officer counterparts.

Obviously, as I approached the crew of seven troopers, they knew I was an American. Trying not to appear as a member of the paparazzi with two cameras draped around my neck, I figured that if I was going to break the ice (no pun intended), I’d better say something funny.

“So, today’s a great day at the beach,” I said.

I drew a chorus of laughter. As they were preparing their field rations for a quick bite of chow, this is where I knew I could relate to their suffering.

“Who got stuck with the Royal Thai?” I asked. This concoction of a meal is the one field ration the Norwegians avoid like the plague — it’s comparable to the old ham and cheese omelet American Soldiers dreaded to eat in “Meals Ready to Eat.” I had them going now.

During my first five days in Norway, my fellow service members of U.S. Special Operations Command Europe and I had to eat the Norwegian field rations, and my curiosity got the best of me as I tried the Royal Thai selection. It’s not that it’s horrible — I even tried to enhance the fish and curry with hot sauce — but that the aftermath hurts you for hours on end.

“If there are 10 of us and there are only10 rations, if one of those is Royal Thai, it stays in the box,” said the grenadier (a Norwegian rank for enlisted soldiers).
I asked another grenadier how many cups of coffee she consumed during their break in “the fight.” She admitted to two cups (while pouring her third), but another suggested that coffee alone wasn’t enough — he needed a couple of energy drinks.

“Word, those got me through Iraq,” I said sharing a war story. “There is nothing like drinking two Red Bulls, listening to some Jay Z, and you’re ready to get right back in the action.”

As a senior noncommissioned officer, it was natural for me to ask the troops about their morale and how were they holding up in the cold. I wanted to make sure they were checking each other for cold weather injuries.

After experiencing Norway’s extreme freezing conditions, South Korea has been bumped to number two on my list of the coldest places I’ve been on Earth. And these troops are outside in the elements, training rigorously in temperatures as low as -35 degrees Celsius.

They gripe. They complain. They … well, I can’t write what I’d normally say. But they also serve. 

They serve their nation just like my fellow American battle buddies, despite the conditions on the ground and environment we find ourselves in. So, I listened, took photos and politely honored their requests not to mention their names — something I experience frequently with Special Operations Forces.

Moments later, our informal session was over as they received word they’d be maneuvering to their next location. They thanked me for stopping by, we exchanged fist-bump handshakes and hugs, and we did what Soldiers do — we acknowledged each other as brothers in arms.

“Stay away from the Royal Thai, my friend,” the grenadier I spoke with earlier said. “If we don’t eat it, neither should you.”

For more on Cold Response 2010, see page 10.

These troops are outside in the elements, training rigorously in temperatures as low as -35 degrees Celsius. They gripe. They complain … but they also serve.