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Vermont's Army Mountain Warfare School Eyes New Facility


The U.S. Army Mountain Warfare School in Vermont is receiving $30 million for a new facility as part of the recently approved federal defense budget. 

Originally established as the Vermont Army National Guard Mountain Warfare School in 1983, the outfit trains a variety of soldiers in military mountaineering. Lt. Col. Jacob Roy is the construction and facilities management officer for the Vermont National Guard at Camp Ethan Allen in Jericho. 

“The current facility, comparatively speaking, the school house to meet the current course standards actually could require up to 100,000 or more square feet. The existing facility that was constructed in 1987 only has about 37,000 square feet. So the building itself currently is only about 63 percent of what it actually should be. The other downside to this building in the current configuration of where it is — it actually has flooded out three times over the last 30 years, requiring extensive interior renovations because of all the water damage and things of that nature. Back when it was built in 1987, the throughput was mostly designed to meet the needs of the Vermont Guard and the 3rd of the 172nd Mountain Infantry Battalion when it was stood up back in 1986. Now this schoolhouse is basically home to mountaineering in the U.S. Army. With the changeover from the 86th Armored Brigade to the Mountain Infantry Brigade here in the state, the throughput and the number of students that are coming into the school has gone up exponentially. So the school house itself just is not sized enough to currently meet the needs of the students or the instructors that are housed there during the courses as they go through it. The school house itself, it’s still got a lot of the 1987 classroom environments in it. As with a lot of the civilian colleges and academia, there's a lot more modern technology to help advance learning capabilities to promote what the course curriculums are, so this project is there to take this old 1987 technology and bring it up to today’s standards.”

Lt. Col. Roy says the new facility is expected to be three stories and about 82,000-square feet. And it will be filled with updated audio and visual technology. 

“This facility is going to be set up to basically provide all the classroom instruction to facilitate any field environment. It's also going to have physical fitness rooms, and our intent is to have some indoor rock climbing capability as well. So the facility is going to be set up to maximize the learning for the students in a controlled environment to learn all their knot-tying, how to actually rig up ropes and ropes systems, and the bare necessities in the building before they actually go out into the field and accomplish what they’ve learned in a classroom environment. The classrooms are going to be able to get broken down to maximize the size of the class attendees — so if there is a smaller core group in there, then we’ll be able to tailor the size of the classroom to meet whatever the instructors and the students' capabilities require. So the building is essentially going to be set up to basically have an extremely controlled environment for them to learn all of their mountaineering skills before actually they go out into the field, use them, and put them into practice.” 

Major Steve Gagner, the commander of the Army Mountain Warfare School, says the school trains soldiers from every major component of the Army. 

“From the active component, reserve, National Guard. From units like the 82nd Airborne, the Ranger Regiment, Special Forces to the New Jersey and Indiana National Guard. There is a wide need for the individual skills that we teach and the Army sends soldiers from every occupational skill, every state and every component to our courses.” 

Major Gagner says the new facility will allow the school to expand both in what it teaches and how many people can attend its courses. 

“We’ll continue with the five current courses that we teach, which is our basic mountaineering, advanced mountaineering, mountain planner course, rough terrain evacuation course, and the mountain rifleman course. Our current problem with delivering that curriculum is bed space. For example, with our basic mountaineering course, we generally train 650 soldiers a year. We have a demonstrated demand from the Army that is nearly double that. So what’s that saying is the leaders in the Army have identified this need for training with their soldiers in order to be prepared to be deployed to places like Afghanistan, and they can’t get their soldiers in there, [there's] simply not enough bed space. So [with] this new facility, we’ll be able to train about double the number of students per course, provided some other resource inputs — but that will allow us to better meet the Army’s needs. In addition, to what we currently have offered, we have looked to address the Army’s need to not only train individuals in the warfighting tasks associated with mountaineering, but also a collective capability in using those tasks. So instead of taking just a single soldier and training them to be an individual mountaineer, we’d like to take entire units, companies, battalions, etc., bring them to Ethan Allen, and allow them to conduct their warfighting tasks on that terrain with military mountaineer subject matter experts and show them how just a little bit of training and very little equipment can lead to exponential improvements in their warfighting capabilities given difficult terrain.” 

Currently in the design phase, the goal is to have the facility constructed by 2022.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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