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Cold winds and cloudy skies: Delta Force cold-weather operations

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Special Forces ARCTIC EDGE 2023 exercise cold weather training
Special Forces Operators conduct training in austere conditions at Pituffik Space Base, Greenland, on May 9, 2023, in support of exercise ARCTIC EDGE 2023. (DVIDS)

Something that SEAL teams both of the West and East Coasts hate is extreme cold weather, Arctic combat, and reconnaissance training. In the Arctic, temperatures can go so cold that if you toss a cup of water in the air, it will turn into a cloud of vapor before it hits the ground. So cold that the fluid in your eyes makes you feel like you are wearing a contact lens. Penguin cold; even Santa Clause complains when he can’t find his mittens. Cold this, cold that, just plain COLD!

Delta Force was no exception and it too complained about Arctic operations. Cold-weather training came around at least once in our 18-month training cycle. I came from a Green Beret group that specialized in extreme cold-weather operations, so I had experience to help keep me warm, but I still loathed the ice-cold climes. Even as I stood at night marveling at the Northern Lights, the aurora borealis, I still hated the training. It was for all intents an exercise in suck.

When the cold-weather training cycle came around, Delta sent all of us sad-sacks to the coldest location feasible, and kindly bid us farewell. In this case, our training took place in the northeastern United States. Temperatures in the U.S. are not the coldest in contrast to many other cold areas in the northern climates: Russia and Canada’s northern territories are doubtless contenders to some of the coldest places on the planet.

We drew the short straw and were obligated by our profession to make a high-altitude parachute jump at night into a field of snow of an unknown depth. One and two feet was the weather prediction. Two and three feet is what was encountered.

After I jumped, and as I steered around the touchdown spot, I could see scattered dark images in and around it… but none of them were moving. Due to poor depth perception, I hit the snow without flaring my parachute canopy to slow myself down for impact. I hit and slipped to the ground in more than four feet of snow, fairly fully immobilized. Then I understood what those dark images were – my fellow operators.

Delta Brothers Jerry F. (left) and Ironhead at a mountain basecamp preparing to summit North America’s tallest peak, 20,310′ Denali. (Courtesy of

There were shouts from the men back and forth across the drop zone. We had no snow shoes, so I post-holed my way slowly and painfully to the rendezvous point. Some men were there, others were stuck in snowy graves shouting expletives at one another.

“Man… I love this $hit”, I said to myself. I must have actually said it out loud because an unexpected brother behind me uttered:

“What’s to love about it – this sucks!”

With the airborne portion of our mission complete, we ushered ourselves to the military barracks where we stayed for the nearly 14 days of our training events. The barracks was warm; well, it actually was too warm for my comfort but man, it was so cold outside.

I recall waking in the night in my top bunk. I had to take a non-negotiable pee in the bathroom building that stood alone a few dozen yards away from our dorms. I was dumbfounded and wondered how I was going to be able to stay up and outside the warm barracks in all the extreme cold.

But anything is bearable once you are accustomed to it.

Related: Navy SEALs and Delta Force commandos living together in the jungles of South America

A Special Forces Operator conducts training in austere conditions at Pituffik Space Base, Greenland, on May 9, 2023, in support of exercise ARCTIC EDGE 2023. ARCTIC EDGE 2023 (AE23) is a U.S. Northern Command-led homeland defense exercise demonstrating the U.S. military’s capabilities in extreme cold weather, joint force readiness, and U.S. military commitment to mutual strategic security interests in the Arctic region. (DVIDS)

When I returned to my bunk I heard the sound of liquid squirting into what sounded like a plastic container. I turned and saw my bunkmate, Chill-D, taking a wiz in an empty Gatorade bottle.

“What the pluck, Chill??” I queried.

“Hey, that’s just how we roll here in Delta in the extreme cold suck.”

I pondered that concept for a little minute, after which I muttered, “Yeah, well I need to get me a bottle like that too.”

Suddenly, through the deafening cacophony of the sleeping men’s boisterous snores came Bart, another of our brothers, darting through the door from the next dorm over and just stood.

“What’s the happs, Bart… have a bad dream?”

“No, Rodney farted and this was the closest oxygen safe haven. I don’t understand… I didn’t think it was possible for humans to fart while they slept. It doesn’t seem possible because what then is keeping us from taking full-caliber dumps in our pants and in the still of the night? I’ll bet that phukr was actually awake and farted on purpose just to mess with us, that sadistic bitch!”

The first day of training brought skiing – alpine as well as cross-country. It was just a day to shake out our skiing prowess and equipment. It all took place on a modest bunny slope with an automated ski lift, which was a just long cable, stretching from top to bottom of the ski slope, with a rope loop attached to it. You had to stand by and catch a rope loop as it passed by and ride the cable up to the top of the ski slope.

Related: Why the military has an office dedicated to tracking the world’s biggest blocks of ice

The author at alpine skiing in Germany. (Courtesy of author)

It proved to be non-stop comedic relief just watching the novice brothers face plant in the snow as they tried to catch and ride the loop to the top. It is actually a bit tricky to catch and ride an object while standing still in the snow. However, like anything else, it turned out to be an easy task once it was mastered.

We took a “time out” when one of the brothers smacked into a snow cat tractor parked at the bottom of the ski slope. He smacked into it broadside, and when he did, both of his ski bindings broke loose and his skis kept on going straight under the snow cat and into a nearby wooded copse. I tell you, it was an absolute cartoon to watch happen. I would have died laughing, but the brother was actually hurt pretty good from the impact.

He was taken back to the barracks for an assessment by our medics who found him hurt just enough to take the rest of the day off, though he would be fit to fall back into the training regimen that we all shared. I admired the hell out of his spirit; he could have easily been shipped back to Fort Bragg.

This incidence reminded me of a level of spirit that I had not discovered until I came to the Delta Force. Men were maimed and many lost limbs. Yet, each time they came back to the States they stayed long enough to get fixed and recover, kiss their family, and return immediately to the combat theater with their Delta brothers. Their ability did not diminsh, it only reorganized to allow their strong traits to pre-empt their weaker ones. They had much to offer still.

Ski training for those first few days gave way to light and heavy weapons shakeout on a do-whatever-you-want live firing range. Weapons can and do behave differently in very cold climates. After that, it was the turn of the “suck-fest” where we practiced combat patrols where we would be out and swallowed up by the wooded mountains penetrated by snow and ice.

Extreme cold-weather training is not for the weak of heart or stomach, but it’s a necessary evil to ensure the sovereignty of America.

By Almighty God and with Honor,

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George Hand

Master Sergeant US Army (ret) from the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. In service, he maintained a high level of proficiency in 6 foreign languages. Post military, George worked as a subcontracter for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on the nuclear test site north of Las Vegas Nevada for 16 years. Currently, George works as an Intelligence Analyst and street operative in the fight against human trafficking. A master cabinet-grade woodworker and master photographer, George is a man of diverse interests and broad talents.