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Feb 3 2023

Allies from NATO eFP Battlegroup Lithuania and Lithuanian Army practice survival skills in extreme cold

SZCZECIN, Poland – In order to adapt service members to Lithuania’s harsh winter climate, the Norwegian soldiers from NATO enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup Lithuania conducted a winter survival training. Held in Panevėžys, Lithuania, the course was participated by the Lithuanian Army. 

Located in the Baltic Sea region, Lithuania has long and cold winters with temperatures averaging -10°C, and in extreme cases plummeting as low as -40°C. Therefore, it is very important for the deployed soldiers to know how to survive outdoors if need be, while remaining combat ready. This is why all combat companies of the Battlegroup have to undergo a hands-on cold weather training. 

The recent course was conducted by the Norwegian soldiers with NATO eFP Battlegroup Lithuania. The Norwegian Armed Forces comprise some of the best winter survival experts, many of whom hold the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) Instructor certificates, and completed the Norwegian Winter Warfare Course. Alongside the eFP service members, the Panevėžys-based event saw the Allies from the Lithuanian Army's King Mindaugas Mechanised Infantry Battalion (Karaliaus Mindaugo mechanizuotasis pėstininkų batalionas).

Going on for a full 24 hours, the course was executed in both day and night conditions. Among many life-saving skills, the participants mastered their ability to start a fire, put up a shelter, collect and purify water for cooking and drinking, prepare food, and act promptly if falling through the ice.

The Norwegian-led winter survival course instructed participants in various cold weather survival methods to include teamwork, camping for extended period outdoors in winter conditions, starting fires, building shelters, preventing hypothermia etc./ Photos by StFw (OR-8) Markus Mader

The training took place when the outside temperatures were just below freezing. In Lithuania, damp cold is much harder to bear than dry cold. "The humidity is an additional challenge,” said Sergeant Eivind, a Battleroup service member and a course instructor. “In our situation, it's all about working evenly and not sweating too much. We need to stay as dry as possible.” The soldiers had to perform their tasks nimbly, but not at the expense of physical fatigue. They also had to ensure their clothes were properly worn, e.g. with wool – not synthetics – being the first layer on the skin.

While kindling a fire, the participants learned about the best types of wood for the job, such as birch or pine due to their natural characteristics. At the same time, the instructors demonstrated how to sustain a flame using other tools: toilet paper, shoe polish, tampons, flintstones etc. Wet wipes from soldiers’ Meal Ready-to-Eat (MRE) packs came in very handy as fire starters because of the alcohol content. When survival in the wilderness is at stake, a “quick fire” is lit first. It serves immediate purposes such as boiling water. At the same time, it provides a basis for the so-called “sustainable fire” which burns much longer, up to three hours on its own, and offers warmth and protection for several people. 

Soldiers, comprising those from the Lithuanian Army, learned how to respond to emergency situations such as falling through the ice / StFw (OR-8) Markus Mader

A task of particular difficulty was the icy plunge performed in uniforms, with backpacks and firearms. When in the ice-cold water, it is very important to control one’s breath and stay calm. There must be no panic nor hyperventilation as this is how one’s energy drains making it impossible for an individual to get out without help. The trainees assimilated a variety of techniques in order to cope with such challenges on their own.

Upon the completion of the event, the Lithuanian Army Lieutenant Mindaugas summarised: "In the Lithuanian Army, we conduct such a training every two years. The eFP instructors, however, gave us many helpful tips on how to do things differently or even better." 

The Norwegian snipers, in particular, have made a lasting impression on our young soldiers. We are very grateful for this opportunity.

Story by Multinational Corps Northeast Public Affairs Office based on release by Lieutenant Colonel André Forkert, NATO eFP Battlegroup Lithuania 

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