American soldiers are jumping into freezing water to learn Arctic warfare

It's part of a large multinational training exercise taking place in Finland and Norway.
Nicholas Slayton Avatar
A U.S. Army soldier dives into a frozen river in Finland as part of Arctic Forge 23. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. James Garvin)

While heavy winter storms hit much of the continental United States, thousands of service members are currently in Scandinavia, taking part in large, multinational Arctic warfare training. Arctic Forge 23 is currently underway, with American, German, Finnish, Norwegian and other nations’ troops doing everything from skiing to dunking themselves in freezing water as part of the exercise. 

Arctic Forge 23 includes two parts, Defense Exercise North in Finland, and exercise Joint Viking in Norway, running concurrently since mid February. The former includes soldiers from the Alaska-based 11th Airborne Division as well as the 10th Mountain Division and Virginia Army National Guard, training alongside 550 Finnish troops. Joint Viking includes 730 Marines, as well as 200 Army soldiers working with more than 10,000 service members from European nations. Both are focused on Arctic combat and survival. 

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Soldiers practice skiing and shooting in Finland as part of Arctic Forge 23. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Keeler)

Although many units in the U.S. military are specialized in, or based in regions with Arctic conditions, these exercises are meant to help keep troops prepared for winter conflicts. That’s something Gen. Darryl A. Williams, commanding general for U.S. Army Europe and Africa, noted in a statement at the start of Arctic Forge. 

“Whether we are campaigning, competing, responding to crisis or in conflict, winning matters,” Williams said. “And we must win in any engagement, including and especially the Arctic, where over-the-pole exercises like this with the Total Army and with our Allies and partners not only protect U.S. national security interests, but ensure a safe and secure region.”

Training includes setting up Arctic bivouacs, live fire exercises, learning to ski, and various winter survival skills. That included soldiers plunging into part of a frozen river with their gear, getting first-hand experience in the extreme cold. On top of that, they’re learning from Finnish soldiers how to accurately fire their rifles while skiing. 

The Norwegian portion of Arctic Forge is the first Joint Viking exercise in four years. Usually held every two years, the 2021 edition was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Arctic Forge 23. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Keeler)

Arctic Forge also serves a geopolitical purpose. The two exercises run as the United States and NATO allies have pledged additional military support to Ukraine. The country’s war with Russia, which is now in its second year, has become a brutal war of attrition as winter set in, with both sides having to deal with ice, snow and frozen battlefields. 

By the U.S. Army’s own words, Defense Exercise North is meant to “demonstrate readiness by deploying a combat-credible force to enhance power in NATO’s northern flank in support of our partner Finland, an aspiring NATO member.” Finland also emphasized that, with its Ministry of Defense noting that interoperability with NATO members’ militaries will be increasingly important in the coming years. Training is drawn in part from real-world scenarios where Finland could be at risk, it added, alluding to potential Russian threats to the Arctic.

The exercises conclude March 17. 

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