Physical And Psychological Conditioning

The commander must develop a conditioning/training program to bring his unit to a level where it can operate successfully in mountain conditions. Priorities of training must be established. As with all military operations, training is a major influence on the success of mountain operations.

a. U.S. forces do not routinely train in mountainous terrain. Therefore, extensive preparations are needed to ensure individual and unit effectiveness. Units must be physically and psychologically conditioned and adjusted before undertaking rigorous mountain operations. Units must be conditioned and trained as a team to cope with the terrain, environment, and enemy situation. Certain factors must be considered:

• What are the climatic and terrain conditions of the area of operations?

• How much time is available for conditioning and training?

• Will the unit conduct operations with other U.S. or Allied forces? Are there language barriers? What assistance will be required? Will training and conditioning be required for attached personnel?

• What additional personnel will accompany the unit? Will they be available for training and conditioning?

• What is the current level of physical fitness of the unit?

• What is the current level of individual expertise in mountaineering?

• What type of operations can be expected?

• What is the composition of the advance party? Will they be available to assist in training and acclimatization?

• What areas in the U.S. most closely resemble the area of operations?

• Are predeployment areas and ranges available?

• Does the unit have instructors qualified in mountain warfare?

• What type equipment will be required (to fit the season, mission, terrain)?

• Does the unit have enough of the required equipment? Do personnel know how to use the equipment? Will the equipment go with the advance party, with the unit, or follow after the unit's arrival?

• Does equipment require modification?

• Do weapons and equipment require special maintenance?

b. When the unit arrives in the area of operations, all personnel require a period of conditioning and acclimatization. The time schedule should allow for longer and more frequent periods of rest. The rigors of establishing an assembly area exhaust most unacclimatized personnel. Water, food, and rest must be considered as priorities, ensuring sufficient amounts while individual metabolisms and bodies become accustomed to functioning at higher elevations.

c. Since the acclimatization process cannot be shortened, and the absence of acclimatization hampers the successful execution of operations, deployment to higher elevations must consider the following:

(1) Above 8,000 feet, a unit should ascend at a rate of 1,000 to 2,000 feet per day. Units can leapfrog, taking an extended rest period.

(2) Units should not resort to the use of pharmaceutical pretreatment with carbonic anhydrase inhibitors such as acetazolamide (Diamox). These drugs have side effects that mimic the signs and symptoms of AMS. Inexperienced medics may have difficulty recognizing the differences between the side effects of the drug and a condition that could possibly be life threatening. Additionally, these drugs are diuretics, which results in higher hydration levels (at least 25 percent increase per man per day). These higher hydration levels create a larger logistical demand on the unit by requiring more water, time to acquire water, water purification supplies, and, if in a winter environment, fuels for melting snow and ice for water.

(3) Carbonic anhydrase inhibitors such as acetazolamide are effective in the treatment of mild and severe AMS. These drugs should accompany attached medical personnel because they can treat the soldier suffering the symptoms of AMS and, although rest may be required evacuation may not be needed.

(4) Do not move troops directly to high altitudes even if allowances can be made for inactivity for the first three to five days before mission commitment. Moving troops directly to high altitude can increase the probability of altitude sickness. Even if inactivity follows deployment, the incidence of altitude sickness is more likely than with a gradual ascent.

d. Training on high-altitude effects can prevent psychological preconceptions. Soldiers who have lived on flat terrain may have difficulty when learning to negotiate steep slopes or cliffs, developing a sense of insecurity and fear. They must be slowly introduced to the new terrain and encouraged to develop the confidence required to negotiate obstacles with assurance and ease. They must be taught the many climbing techniques and principles of mountain movement. They overcome their fear of heights by becoming familiar with the problem. The soldier cannot be forced to disregard this fear.

e. Regardless of previous training and the amount of flat cross-country movement practice, the untrained soldier finds mountain movement hard and tiring. A different group of muscles are used, which must be developed and hardened. A new technique of rhythmic movement must be learned. Such conditioning is attained through frequent marches and climbs, while carrying TOE and special equipment loads. This conditions the back and legs, which results in increased ability and endurance. At the same time, the men acquire confidence and ability to safely negotiate the terrain. The better the physical condition of the soldier, the better the chance of avoiding exhaustion. Proper physical conditioning ensures the soldier is an asset and not a liability. The body improves its capacity for exercise, the metabolism becomes more efficient, and blood and oxygen flow quickly and effectively.

f. A physical fitness training program that gradually increases in difficulty should include marches, climbing, and calisthenics. This increases the soldier's endurance. Through a sustained high level of muscular exertion, the soldier's capacity for exertion is increased. Physical conditioning should include long-distance running for aerobic conditioning; calisthenics and weight training to strengthen the heart, lungs, abdomen, legs, back, arms, and hands; a swimming program to increase lung efficiency; and road marches over mountainous terrain with all combat equipment. Upon deploying to high elevations, caution must be exercised by units that are in superior physical condition. The heart rate, metabolism, and lungs must become accustomed to the elevation and thinner air. A conditioning program must be set up on site and integrated in gradual stages where acclimatization, conditioning, and mountaineering skills are realized.

g. Conditioning should begin with basic climbing. It is equally important to instill the will to climb. Confidence goes hand in hand with physical conditioning and skill development. Repetitive practice, to the point of instinctive reaction, is key to learning and maintaining climbing proficiency and technical skills. There are no quick and easy methods to becoming acclimatized and conditioned. Training should gradually challenge the soldier over an extended period and reinforce learning skills.

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