Welcome everyone to the second installment of my weekly trivia newsletter. Let me tell you, this one almost didn’t make it out. I’ve definitely had a week. Because of the ludicrous amounts of snow we’ve been having here in Washington, I crashed my car just before Christmas. I was totally fine, but the same could not be said for my car. Car shopping right now is crazy, but I managed to get a decent one ant an alright price. That, combined with the warmer weather we’re having, means that I won’t have to ski to work.
You know who did have to ski to work, though? The 10th Mountain Division of the United States Army. At the outbreak of World War 2, Finland managed to inflict heavy casualties on Russian forces by employing skis to maneuver around the battlefield quickly. The US Army also saw the effectiveness of mountain troops when Greece repulsed a large Italian incursion which was unprepared to fight in the highly mountainous terrain. Thus, in 1941 the decision was made to form the first battalion of mountain warfare troops. The 87th Mountain Infantry Battalion were the first to be activated, at Fort Lewis, Washington, becoming the first mountain warfare unit in US military history. Concerned that there was not enough time to teach a bunch of soldiers how to ski from the ground up, the US Army employed the National Ski Patrol as recruiters. To this day, the NSP remains the only civilian recruiting agency in military history (a bonus trivia fact). The 87th trained on Mount Rainier’s peak, and were eventually brought to Camp Hale in Colorado to help form the 10th Light Division (which became the 10th Mountain Division). After further training in rock climbing and winter warfare, the division left for Italy in December of 1944. There they joined up with the 1st Brazilian Infantry Division to repel German forces from the Northern Apennines to help allied troops through the valley. Throughout the spring of 1945, they continued moving forward with other Allied troops in taking Italy.
During the Cold War, the 10th Mountain Division was expanded and reorganized, and has remained a part of US military operations since. But their legacy goes beyond just warfare. At least 60 ski resorts have been founded by men of the division, and many others went on to civilian careers in skiing and mountaneering.
Nowadays, many nations train troops in skiing, including Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Spain, Italy, Germany, Denmark (in Greenland), Switzerland, and the United Kingdom (to name a few). The United States operates several training centers for its armed forces, including the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in northern California, the Northern Warfare Training Center and the Army Mountain Warfare School in Vermont, and the Naval Special Warfare Cold Weather Detachment Kodiak in Alaska.
So there you are, the US’s first ski troops. I’m just glad that the winter weather here is finally leaving. Hopefully. Snow is fun and all, but not when you’re going down a hill in a car. Stay safe out there, everyone.
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