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Red Hats Give Marines A Better Chance To Survive
by U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Rachel Young-Porter
March 16, 2021

Tough and realistic conditions are necessary pillars to ensure U.S. Marines are trained well for the future fight.

Recently various units within 2nd Marine Logistics Group, stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, were exposed to cold weather training thousands of feet above sea-level at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, California from October of 2020 to February 2021.

The Marines learned how to drive heavy tactical vehicles on rugged and steep mountainous trails, tack mules and use them to help resupply troops, practice how to shoot, move, and communicate in deep snow, and all were purposefully exposed to hypothermia.

The Northern California’s towering mountains have altitudes up to a breath-taking 12,000 ft., and many travelers will find it difficult to survive the harsh conditions of the summers and winters. The U.S. Marine Corps, however, has given red-fleece caps to differentiate the few among the few who have been trained to conquer and guide in austere terrains.

Marines teaching as Mountain Warfare Instructors (MWIs) are given a lesser-known, colloquial name “red hats,” to represent the bright-colored beanies and helmets that they don while instructing various training cycles.

U.S. Marines with 2nd Maintenance Battalion hike to Grouse Meadows at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center (MCMWTC) Bridgeport, California, during Mountain Training Exercise 2-21 on Jan. 24, 2021. Marines and Sailors are training at the MCMWTC to prepare for the rigors of operating in harsh weather conditions, mountainous terrain, and increased elevation. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Adaezia L. Chavez)
U.S. Marines with 2nd Maintenance Battalion hike to Grouse Meadows at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center (MCMWTC) Bridgeport, California, during Mountain Training Exercise 2-21 on Jan. 24, 2021. Marines and Sailors are training at the MCMWTC to prepare for the rigors of operating in harsh weather conditions, mountainous terrain, and increased elevation. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Adaezia L. Chavez)

“With Yosemite being to the west of us, it’s not an uncommon thing to see rescue helicopters at the end of every weekend because a hiker has gotten lost or injured,” Gunnery Sgt. Jones, an instructor with the training center said. “The difference when training units come to these mountains is that they have us to train them - to step on certain rocks vice others, or to practice safety all the way down to the basics of using sunscreen.”

These instructors are recruited from combat occupational specialties within the Corps and go through the summer and winter Mountain Leaders packages before earning the coveted “red hat,” thereby becoming a Mountain Leader. From there, instructors are trained in a specialty course to lead. There are a various courses taught at the training center, from horsemanship to sniper school.
Although the cold is rough – the red hats offer challenges all year long.

“Out of the 16 courses, I’d say that Summer Mountain Leaders course is the most physically and technically demanding,” said Jones.

Instruction offered in classes like the Basic Cold Weather Course act as a force multipliers for the 2nd MLG, as many of the Marines can now train their fellow teammates at home.

“During the two weeks that we attended the Basic Cold Weather Course we learned how to keep others, as well as ourselves, alive in harsh winter conditions,” said Cpl. Seaira A. Moore, a newly-minted basic cold weather graduate. “The Marines had an amazing way of instructing us in a way that made us feel safe even as we were induced into hypothermia.”

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Michael Koehn with 2nd Maintenance Battalion sets up a tent at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center (MCMWTC) Bridgeport, California, during Mountain Training Exercise 2-21 Jan. 24, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Adaezia L. Chavez)
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Michael Koehn with 2nd Maintenance Battalion sets up a tent at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center (MCMWTC) Bridgeport, California, during Mountain Training Exercise 2-21 Jan. 24, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Adaezia L. Chavez)

Some were even able to test their newly minted skills up at Fort Drum, New York in like conditions in the snow with a cold weather exercise hosted by Combat Logistics Battalion 8.

“Leading the Marines here in New York made me see why the training that we did as BCWL students is so important,” said Sgt. Wes Alvarez, with CLB-8. “The ability to take what I learned back to the 2nd MLG, train the base line knowledge, and seeing how that improves us as a fighting force made those days and nights in the cold worth it.”

The Corps’ mountain warfare center offers classes annually to every branch of service within the United States, as well as NATO forces on a regular basis.

“I think every Marines should have the opportunity to participate in at least one of the courses the MWTC has to offer during their Marine Corps career,” said Moore. “Not just for the skill set taught by the red hats, but for the overall experience.”

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