Recruits from the Estonian Defense Forces' (EDF) Scouts Battalion have been taking advantage of the recent cold spell to get in some ice breaking drills.
Over 200 members have taken part in the exercise, which involves leaping into the freezing water, exposed by a hole cut into the ice, and negotiating their way across to the other side before extricating themselves, all under the watchful eye of instructors.
Ice breaking drills instructor 2Lt Oliver Jõesaar says that initial reactions from first-timers can involve panic.
2Lt Jõesaar said, via an EDF press release, that: "This is a controlled environment, and the experience gain from instructors and in the presence of medical personnel is useful not only in service life but also on civvy street."
"You need to keep calm, breathe in and out deeply, and understand where you can get out [of the hole] and immediately go and get yourself warmed up," 2Lt Jõesaar continued.
Basic safety rules when falling into icy water involve the above focus on breathing, within the first minute, extricating oneself within 10 minutes, and not only quickly getting warmed-up, but keeping warm for an hour thereafter, the EDF said via its press release.
Private (Reamees) Mihkel Kokka was just one of the Scouts' Battalion members partaking in the exercise who was, just hours later, looking at ways to repeat the experience.
"For my part this was a very cool experience, like a lot of the other exercises we do in military training. I believe that the cold water toughens up the nervous system and strengthens the immune system," Pte Kokka said.
While civilian ice swimming might include leisure aspects such as open water dips during winter and the famous cold plunges in between sauna sessions, with even religion playing a role, ice holes present their own particular hazards, with risks increasing when temperatures get milder – as they are at the moment – particularly at the end of winter.
Dangers include the onset of hypothermia, cardiac issues as well as drowning.
Ice hole fishermen are frequently at risk and so should, in addition to heeding military advice above, carry with them special spikes, available in outdoor stores and tied to the clothing, which help get a purchase on the ice when pulling oneself out. Keeping a spare set of warm clothes, a flask of hot drink, snacks, a fully-charged phone and a fully-refueled vehicle nearby are also best practice.
The EDF members taking part in this week's exercise were also secured via a lanyard to their instructor, as an additional precaution.
The Scouts Battalion (Scoutspataljon) is a rapid response unit under the EDF's 1st Infantry Brigade command structure.
Editor: Andrew Whyte