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News | Feb. 17, 2022

Humble Beginnings: U.S. Army Mountain Warfare School

By Sgt. 1st Class Whitney Hughes, National Guard Bureau

The U.S. Army Mountain Warfare School was established April 5, 1983, in a mobile home next to a tin shack on a small hill in Jericho, Vermont. The tin shack still exists, across from where a new $30 million facility is being constructed.

In 1983, the cadre and staff worked out of the Red House, a farmhouse that housed range operations. It is the only structure on what was then known as Camp Ethan Allen that dates to before the post was established in 1926.

“Leading up to the first course, the captain who was charged with making this new mountain school was busy writing the training program,” said former Vermont Army National Guard member Evan Hughes, who was on the support staff for the unit’s first course. “We were burning copies on an old photocopier at the Red House that first sergeant did his own maintenance on because it was so old the company wouldn’t service it anymore.

“It was just completely innovating, creating a functional specialty Army unit out of nothing. You really have to respect those guys for accomplishing that with no existing example in Army,” Hughes said.

The students and instructors came from National Guard units throughout the country. They focused on many of the same skills taught at the school today – rappelling, climbing and first aid.

In 1987, a new schoolhouse was built, which is still in operation today, and in 1994 the school was designated as the producer of the military mountaineer skill identifier. In 2003, the school was named the U.S. Army Mountain Warfare School, and the Defense Department made it the executive agent responsible for teaching military mountaineering.

Today, the school trains about 1,000 students a year and moves to a nearly new 83,000-square-foot facility in April, said Lt. Col. Steve Gagner, the AMWS commander.

“We designed it from scratch,” he said. “We designed it to train about 140 Soldiers at a time; our current capacity is 72. The reason we picked 140 was that’s the size of an infantry company. The intent was to either train an infantry company or battalion to be more mobile and lethal in a specific type of environment.”

The new building is at the base of the school’s ski hill. The hill includes a renovated ski lift, and the building features an indoor climbing wall and modernized classrooms and barracks.

“It creates a better academic environment for the students, a better working environment for the staff, and the cadre,” said Gagner. “It really speaks to the importance that being a national schoolhouse brings with it.”

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