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U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division Has Tradition Unlike Any Other

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10th Mountain Division soldiers

10th Mountain Division soldiers pose for a picture during training along a snow-covered trail in Colorado. 1944
Photo: Denver Public Library

October 2001 -- From its inception during World War II, the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division has been one of the most celebrated combat forces in American military history. Now the division is again in the spotlight as America's war on terrorism heats up. The unit has been deployed to bases in Afghanistan's neighbors Pakistan and the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan. It's expected to play a key role in potential ground-based strikes.

The history of the 10th Division begins with the U.S. National Ski Patrol, a group of ski enthusiasts and mountain climbers who promoted ski safety on the slopes. As war against Germany appeared imminent, the group's president Charles "Minnie" Dole began lobbying the Department of War to train troops for potential mountain-and-winter combat warfare in Europe.

On December 8, 1941, the U.S. Army activated its first mountain unit, the 87th Mountain Infantry Battalion at Fort Lewis, Wash. The battalion, which included many ski bums, daredevils and other outdoorsmen, was dubbed "Minnie's Ski Troops" and later became the core of the 10th Mountain Division in 1944.

10th Mountain Division soldiers

10th Mountain Division soldiers march past the reviewing stand during 1998 exercises held in Uzbekistan.
Photo: U.S. Air Force

The division first proved its valor on the battlegrounds of Italy. Its soldiers had their greatest moment of glory with a sneak assault on a German garrison on Italy's Riva Ridge in 1945. They climbed a 1,500-foot ridge of the North Apennine Mountains at night, surprising the Germans who considered the terrain to be impossible to scale and manned it with only one battalion.

But the division also suffered heavy losses during the war. Among 19,210 men who served in the 10th Division in Italy, nearly 1,000 were killed and almost 4,000 were wounded by the end of World War II.

America also has benefited from the 10th Mountain Division's legacy during peacetime. The unit developed a radical piece of equipment that would later transform winter recreation sports: the snowmobile. And after the war ended, veterans made other important contributions. About 2,000 of them became ski instructors, including the founders of the popular resorts Aspen and Vail. Other famous veterans include former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and famed University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman, who invented the "waffle" sole for running shoes and co-launched the athletic shoe company Nike.

Other Resources

Visit the U.S. Army Web site and see pictures of the 10th Mountain Division during World War II.

Visit the U.S. Department of Defense Web site to learn more about the 10th Division.