We all know what an idyllic winter looks like: soft, big snowflakes, drifting down in waves to blanket the country in a silent shroud; smoke from a woodstove slowly curling upwards above the roof of a house in the country; cardinals cheerfully hopping about from branch to branch, making mounds of snow fall on the heads of unsuspecting children who are building a snowman. Yes, that is what winter looks like. And if you are looking at this picture through a window, perhaps sipping your morning cup of coffee on a Saturday, then it is a pleasing sight indeed.
But not to train in.
And not in New England.
Growing up in Ohio, near the borders of West Virginia and Pennsylvania, snow was exciting. It rarely came in installments greater than four inches at a time, and as such did not impact one's life significantly. Being Midwesterners, we all drove fifteen miles below the speed limit in the snow and believed that all one needed to keep in one's car was a small scraper for those troublesome mornings when there was a bit of ice on the car. Roads would be clear after a few hours unless it was a particularly bad storm (a foot!? Why then the whole county must shut down!). And Spring would come as promised, sometimes in late February or early March. Being in the National Guard in Ohio then, meant that for a few months we had to stay inside and train, or occasionally take the vehicles out and get them all muddy so that we would have something to clean. But soon the snow would change to mud, and then we would be able to train as normal.
And then I moved to New England, where the snow does not just fall from the sky, it sprouts from the ground, and even if the roads are buried in snow, school is not cancelled and people still drive the requisite ten miles over the speed limit. Where roads may stay icy for days, where you have to keep a shovel, deicer, and salt in the back of your car, and where, most importantly, the ground is covered in snow that is measured in feet, not inches. And when you are a member of an infantry company, especially a Mountain infantry company (3-172, Ascend to Victory!), you do not stay inside and cancel training. Rather, you schedule more training. And camp on mountainsides. In the snow. In January.
Those who live in southern climates will not appreciate the difficulties of living in the Great White North and doing ROTC. For example, one must get up at least ten minutes early to clean the frost and snow off the car, and earlier still if there has been recent snow so that you can get to PT on time, because no, PT in Maine is not cancelled for a trifling few inches of snow. And at PT, you cannot run outside from December till sometime (God willing) in March, because there is still an inch of ice on the roads and sidewalks. And when you want to do any training outside, you have to bear in mind that movement is going to take three times as long as normal as you are fighting your way through snowbanks, let alone the OPFOR. Therefore, most training has to be done inside. Which results in cadets becoming quite gloomy and morose during the winter months.
This is counteracted by the outburst of optimism and energy that explodes when the sun finally reappears after its long hiatus. PT scores rebound, grades go up, attendance is at 100%, and our Ranger Challenge teams go and destroy all others in the competitions. What then is the lesson from all this? By having an ROTC program in a place that breeds a combination of pessimism, determination, innovation, and an obstinate will that winter will not vanquish us, northern ROTC programs produce a cadet that is hardened and ready to take on all challenges.
And almost, just almost, as good as Ohio cadets.