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24 hours with the Chasseurs Alpins

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What does it take to survive in the mountains? Find out as NATO video producers embed with the Chasseurs Alpins (“Alpine Hunters” in English), the French Army’s elite mountain infantry unit.


What does it take to survive in the mountains? Find out as NATO video producers embed with the Chasseurs Alpins (“Alpine Hunters” in English), the French Army’s elite mountain infantry unit. Over the course of 24 hours, they trek deep into the French Alps, where they set up camp and run training drills in the challenging mountain terrain. Military operations in the Alps aren’t for the faint of heart, and the Chasseurs show how demanding training pays off in expertise.

Footage includes shots from a 24-hour embed with the 13th Battalion Chasseurs Alpins, including shots of building igloos and combat drills.


—SOUNDBITE—(English) Rob Kunzig

“We are here in the heart of the French Alps to spend 24 hours with the French Army’s Chasseurs Alpins.

This is a unit of elite infantry who’s trained specifically for combat at high altitudes and in wintery conditions.




“What does it take to survive in the mountains? Up here, breathing is hard. Walking is hard. Military operations are almost impossible.

Unless you’re the French Army’s elite mountain troops, the Chasseurs Alpins. That’s ‘alpine hunters’ in English. For these soldiers, the steep crags of the French Alps are home.
To find out how they not only survive, but thrive in these conditions, I joined them in the field for 24 hours. I thought I was ready, but I had no idea.

So I was just told by our guide that the section we’re on now … is 300 metres, and I said, ‘That’s not too bad.’ And then he indicated that it was 300 metres straight up, so … yeah.”

Video Producer for NATO

–SOUNDBITE– (ENGLISH) Company Commander
“OK, so it’s the platoon leader, Benoit, Lieutenant Benoit.”

“My name’s Rob, I’m from NATO.”

–SOUNDBITE– (English) Lieutenant Benoit
“Nice to meet you. Welcome. So we’re just setting up igloo.”

13th Battalion Chasseurs Alpins

“What they’re doing right now is digging a trench, and we’re going to sleep in that trench. Which seems a little counterintuitive, because the snow is cold. If you dig a deep trench in the snow, and you dig little cubby holes in that, turns out you will be quite warm at night, because snow is a great insulator, it traps heat. It’s going to be about -20 up here at night, but inside those cubby holes, it’s going to be a level zero degrees.

SOUNDBITE– (English) Lieutenant Benoit
From this corridor, we’re going to dig several foxholes as rooms, basically. But probably here will be between two and three people for each room.

–SOUNDBITE– (English) Jack Somerville
“How’s Rob doing so far?”

–SOUNDBITE– (English) Lieutenant Benoit
“Pretty good.”

–SOUNDBITE– (French) Rob Kunzig
“I’m a soldier of the French Army!”

–SOUNDBITE– (English) Lieutenant Benoit
“Yeah! Almost.”

–SOUNDBITE– (English) Rob Kunzig
“Can you tell us what these guys are doing?”

–SOUNDBITE– (English) Lieutenant Benoit
“So, we are sending them snow that we are digging so that they make the roof. Actually, it will be the roof of your room. So they make it strong with their weight, so they make it stronger.”

–SOUNDBITE– (English) Rob Kunzig
“Just spent the past four hours digging out our igloo and it’s just ridiculously hard work because all that snow that you packed down is incredibly hard to just punch into. I’m looking forward to tucking in to some chow and sleeping in the Hotel Chasseurs.”

–SOUNDBITE– (French) François
“Delicious potato purée and cow’s milk cheese.”

–SOUNDBITE– (French) Rob Kunzig.
“That’s very delicious.”

–SOUNDBITE– (English) Rob Kunzig
“There’s pâté in the French MRE [Meal Ready to Eat]. Salted biscuits. And then … a lot of coffee.”

–SOUNDBITE– (English) Lieutenant Benoit
“‘Rugged’ is a good term to qualify the French Army in general, and especially the mountain troops, the Chasseurs Alpins, as you see here. We are facing cold. We are alone, digging holes. And I think, yeah, we need to be very resilient and rugged.

You, of course you have fear, but you try to master it.”

–SOUNDBITE– (English) Rob Kunzig
“Cozied up inside the igloo. Got the little candle here. Thought it was for ambiance but I suspect it might be to detect carbon monoxide poisoning.”

–SOUNDBITE– (French) Rob Kunzig
“That’s all. Goodnight.”

–SOUNDBITE– (English) Jack Somerville
“Morning, Rob.”

–SOUNDBITE– (English) Rob Kunzig

–SOUNDBITE– (English) Rob Kunzig
“Good morning, everybody. May I recommend sleeping in an igloo, because I feel like a new man.”

–SOUNDBITE– (English) Rob Kunzig
“With caffeine in my bloodstream, I was ready to join the Chasseurs for a day of tactical manoeuvres and target practice. But first, I visited a remote radio relay to see how the Chasseurs communicate in the difficult mountain terrain.”

–SOUNDBITE– (English) Rob Kunzig
“One of the most important things in military operations isn’t just moving and shooting, it’s communicating. Therefore, if you really want to be able to communicate well, you need to be able to get the strongest signal to the highest place.”

“And this is an area where the Chasseurs Alpins are uniquely excellent because they are very good at reaching high places.”

13th Battalion Chasseurs Alpins

–SOUNDBITE– (English) Lieutenant Benoit
“I think the first main difficulty is the terrain. You can’t conceal yourself very easily. A lot of elevation. It takes a lot of time to be good in that type of terrain. That’s why we train.”

–SOUNDBITE– (English) Rob Kunzig
“We’re going to be following Lieutenant Benoit. They’re just firing blanks, but everything they’re doing right now is exactly as they would do it in an actual combat situation.

Right now they’re switching out from skis to snow shoes. They’re not as fast as skis, but, you know, you can move in more than one direction, which is good when you’re in combat.

This is where you see the Chasseurs Alpins really come into their element because fighting in the snow is extremely difficult and if you haven’t trained for it … Oh, here we go. Let’s move.”

–SOUNDBITE– (English) Rob Kunzig
“That happened faster than I could keep track of. Those guys charged down that mountain on snow shoes so quickly. And I had a hard enough time staying on my feet!

I think that’s part of the idea, right? The Chasseurs Alpins leverage their skills in mountain fighting to quickly overwhelm the enemy on difficult terrain.”

–SOUNDBITE– (English) Lieutenant Benoit
“I think the specificity of the Chasseurs Alpins is to fight and evolve in a particular environment. I think it’s a real good asset for France, and of course for NATO. We intervened in Kosovo, Afghanistan where the elevation is high, so we’re special in that type of terrain. And we are maintaining those assets for France and for the coalition.”

–SOUNDBITE– (English) Rob Kunzig
“This is the kind of environment that does not take all comers. If you’re not prepared, the mountains are going to chew you up and spit you out. It took getting up to the top of the mountain with them to really understand that. And we’ve seen over the past 24 hours exactly how France’s elite mountain infantry prepare for this kind of environment, and ensure that, should the time come, they’ll be ready.”
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