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By Maj. J. Scott Detweiler
The 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain) conducted the first round of tryouts on Sept. 10 to compete in the biennial Edelweiss Raid hosted in Austria this February.
Held in the Tyrolian Alps, the Edelweiss Raid brings together 8-person teams from over 10 nations, to include NATO and NATO partner states, to compete in a rigorous military mountaineering competition. Teams must traverse 40 kilometers of high alpine, snow-covered terrain with 4,000 meters of elevation gain while completing a variety of mountain warfare tactical tasks within a two-day period.
“It is an incredible challenge,” said U.S. Army Maj. Nathan Fry, team-leader and 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry Regiment, 86th IBCT (MTN) executive officer from Hinesburg, Vermont. “Unlike other skimo races, the emphasis in the Raid is not on lightweight gear and Lycra suits—competitors race in military-issued skis with full combat equipment, rifles, rescue sleds and radios. Packs can weigh between 30 and 50 pounds.”
This round of the tryout consisted of a timed run up the toll-road of Mt. Mansfield, 4.3 miles of steep incline up 2,564 feet of elevation. Out of the 12 competitors, 1st Lt. Josh McDougal, A Company, 3-172 IN (MTN) from Dannemora, New York and Capt. Brad Patnaude, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 86th IBCT (MTN) from Williston, Vermont finished with the fastest times, coming in at 44:42 and 50:00 respectively.
Fry will ultimately assemble two teams of eight backed by 4 alternates based on performances over a series of tryouts this winter, as well as the experience and training of each competitor.
Fry led the first U.S. team to compete in the Raid in 2019. That first team consisted of Soldiers from the 86th IBCT (MTN) and the U.S. Army Mountain Warfare School. They became the only first-year team to ever complete the race with all team members. They finished 13th of 23 teams.
“Western military mountaineering is really dominated by Germany France, and of course, Austria,” said Fry. “Our participation in 2019 was the first attempt to show our European allies that the US has a small but competent group of military mountaineers who are capable of partnering with them in the event of a mountain warfare operation.”
The Vermont Army National Guard operates the primary U.S. Army Mountain Warfare school, as well as the National Guard Bureau’s Biathlon program out of Ethan Allen Firing Range in Jericho, where the Army’s only Mountain-designated Brigade is headquartered. The Edelweiss Raid fosters community among participating nations as they compete and share mountain warfare best practices and tactics.