NASHVILLE, Tenn. --
The U.S. Army’s Cold Weather Operations Course (CWOC) is an extreme cold weather survival and training course. It’s common to see Army Rangers and Navy SEALs taking part in it.
However, two Airmen from the 118th Wing achieved something no one else has up to this point, becoming the first force support Airmen in the Air Force’s history to complete the CWOC.
Staff Sgt. Rashad Wilson, a services craftsman, and Airman 1st Class Jalen Long, a personnelist, both from the 118th Force Support Squadron (FSS), had very little time preparing themselves before leaving for this course.
“I got a call [two days] before we were supposed to leave,” said Long. “They were like ‘Hey Airman Long do you want to go to Wisconsin?’ And I said absolutely.”
Wilson said they were given the opportunity after people from another unit dropped out. However, neither of them had any idea as to what this course entailed and what awaited them.
After traveling to the course site at Ft. McCoy, Wisconsin, Wilson and Long, along with five Airmen from the 118th Security Forces Squadron, were thrust into extreme conditions almost immediately.
“I've never been up to the North like that, never seen snow like that, never seen a negative temperature in my life,” said Long. “So, going up there and it’s -24 degrees, and anything that touched your skin felt like fire, it was so cold.”
From Feb. 14-28, 2021, Wilson and Long went through a battery of extremely demanding cold-weather exercises that included land navigation, skiing, snowshoeing, shelter building, and cold weather emergency recognition. They even endured training in frigid water.
“It's 33-degree water, we had to jump into a cut-out hole, and we had to overcome cold water shock,” said Long. “[The cadre] was asking us questions, and we had to respond clearly and coherently before we could actually get out of the water.”
While every element of the course was challenging, Wilson and Long said the most difficult part of the course was pulling the ahkio sleds, a sled with runners on the bottom designed to haul heavy loads across snowy surfaces.
“We are connected to it like sled dogs. We're going anywhere from about seven to nine miles a day, in at least one-to-two feet of snow, wearing snowshoes,” said Wilson. “You have to coordinate your movements with everybody. We are going up slopes that are about 45 to 50-degree inclines, with at least 50 pounds on your back while you're pulling.”
Wilson and Long said this course was by far the most challenging thing they had done in their military careers.
Wilson said he was very grateful to go through the course with the five security forces members since he and Long come from career fields that are less physical in nature. He said they would often support and push each other mentally to get through each task set before them.
“This experience really encompassed one of our core values, excellence in all we do,” said Wilson. “We're out there pumping out every single day, just trying to excel and complete each day, one step at a time.”
With their new cold-weather skills, Wilson and Long plan to train others at the 118th Wing about cold weather gear and survival tactics. They could also see themselves returning to Ft. McCoy in the future.
“I would definitely go back to the cadre, especially helping out other people who want that opportunity to be able to challenge themselves and experience something new,” said Long.
“Coming from a boy from the South, you'll never see that kind of snow in your life, and I would recommend it.”
Even though they now have a small piece of Air Force history tied to them, Wilson and Long are modest about their accomplishment.
“It's kind of surreal knowing that you're going to be the first person to break this ground,” said Long. “I'm just humbled that my senior leadership was willing to pick me.”
“It's just an honor and privilege to be sought out by our leadership, having them recognize potential in us,” said Wilson. “It's very humbling and ecstatic to be the first FSS members to accomplish something to that nature.”