RUKLA, Lithuania — On a freezing day in Lithuania, sweat broke on Sgt. Jose Soto’s face as he stepped toward the frozen pond where a hole was cut into the ice.
He was about to take a leap of faith as part of the winter survival training with his counterparts from the Lithuanian Iron Wolf Brigade. It was a polar bear-sized leap into the icy water to experience first-hand what would be, under other circumstances, an extremely panic-inducing moment.
“As I walked onto the ice and got ready to jump in, I was nervous a little. But when the instructor put the rope around me and reminded me of the steps to save myself, I relaxed and knew I had a job to do,” said Soto, of Company B (“Barbarian”), 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.
After entering the water, each soldier from Barbarian Company executed the proper steps flawlessly: remain calm, control breathing, yell for help and exit the water where the ice is strongest.
The joint training Thursday between U.S. and Lithuanian soldiers who are taking part in Atlantic Resolve capped a week of winter survival training, during which U.S. soldiers also learned how to build fires and shelters. All the techniques are intended to save a life in a dire situation.
“If you ever find yourself in the forest surrounded by small ponds and freezing temperatures, you might need some of the training we completed,” Soto said. “The final exercise put us in a scenario where we were alone, forced to walk over a pond because there were no other routes available.”
As the soldiers walked across the ice, they simulated the ice cracking beneath their feet and then falling into the 37-degree water below.
“The scenario was drastic and made us confront a situation where panic is at the forefront of the mind,” Soto said.
As the soldiers in Barbarian’s 1st Platoon leaped in the water, they kept their cool as the immediate shock affected their bodies. Training kicked in rather than panic as they submerged in the freezing water.
“The water was really cold. It shocks you immediately. I just talked to myself after I jumped in and calmed my mind down,” said Spc. Lane King of Barbarian Company.
Escaping the cold water became easy once they got over the initial panic, said Staff Sgt. Andrew Crouch of Barbarian Company.
“We had a great time. We learned some cool tricks, and it’s something we are thankful for,” he said. “My guys were talking about it for days because it’s something we don’t normally get to do. It was a great experience and now we have a better idea of what to do in a survival situation.”