Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
Story by Staff Sgt. Lynette Hoke
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait - This year is the 15th anniversary of the Minnesota Polar Bear Plunge. The plunge is held by the Minnesota Law Enforcement to benefit Special Olympics. The interested participants must raise a minimum of $75 and take a 'plunge' into one of designated spots on one of Minnesota's frozen lakes. In the last seven years, the plunge has increased from five to 16 plunge sites all over the state, to include Camp Arifjan in Kuwait.
First Lt. Ryan Newcomer and 1st Lt. Ryan Doliber, both from the 1/34th Brigade Special Troops Battalion (1/34th BSTB) from Bloomington, Minn., deployed at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, connected with Minnesota Special Olympics and partnered with the Morale Recreation and Welfare office on Camp Arifjan to coordinate the event.
Around 125 service members, mostly from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division 'Red Bulls' deployed to the area came to participate on the breezy and cold morning of Saturday, Feb. 4, to hold a remote version of the event.
The event had many similar features a 'Polar Bear Plunger' would experience in Minnesota. Like a Polar Bear Plunge Dash 'n' Splash, the service members were required to run a 5K prior to their plunge into an icy pool.
"One of the coldest days we have had in Kuwait, and here are tons of Minnesota "Red Bulls" lined up to run a 5K and then jump into a tank of ice water," said Sgt. 1st Class Erin Reski and native of White Bear Lake, Minn. "It's nice to be able to continue traditions when we are so far from home."
A surprise too many of the Minnesotans, stereotyped to be acclimated to the record-cold winters of the north, found themselves bracing almost freezing 35 degree Fahrenheit winds the morning of the event ... something many thought they would never find during their stay in Kuwait.
"If we were to do it over again, I would try to add a warming tent a little closer to the plunge site," said 1st Lt. Doliber, native of Elk River, Minn., "It was cold enough to see your breath, but as far as I'm concerned it was a success, we raised awareness for a great cause and had fun as a group in an unusual way."
After the plungers dried off the ice cold water, all the participants received a Polar Bear Plunge long sleeve shirt to remember their chilly Saturday morning in Kuwait. The common experience of cannon-balling into a pool of water was a bit of a bonding experience for all in attendance.
"The event was fantastic; I think it was a tremendous morale builder for the brigade," said Maj. Michael Pazdernik and native of Alexandria, Minn. "Since we are from Minnesota and not home this winter, there was an extra connection for all of us in 'braving' the cold."
Instead of a freezing ice-covered lake, the unit used a blivet, or a rubberized bladder used to transport water, and filled it with around 3,000 gallons of water. To simulate the take-your-breath-away temperatures, approximately 500 bags or approximately 3,000 pounds of ice were brought to fill the pool. All of this to simulate the water temperatures participants would feel during the plunges back in Minnesota.
"I have participated in three previous Polar Bear Plunges at the Maple Grove, Minn., location in 2008, 2009 and 2011," said 1st Lt. Doliber. "The cold water, cold air temperature, and plunging with close friends made the event feel like I was doing it at home."
Not all of the participants are veterans at the jump into an icy abyss, but enjoyed the new experience.
"I have not previously participated in a Polar Plunge, but I chose to participate in this event because I thought it would be fun, funny and because of the connection between the event here and events back in Minnesota," said Maj. Pazdernik, 1/34th BCT Training Officer.
After the desert sun rose into the morning and the Polar Bear Plunge closed after its last jumper, the months of coordination and work paid off for all of those involved.
"After seeing and hearing those that joined us today, I would do it again even if it were 10 times more difficult to set it up," said Master Sgt. Newcomer and native of Anoka, Minn., "The people really enjoyed this and I am proud that we were able to raise awareness for the Special Olympics as well as a little bit in donations while managing to create a memory that will last a lifetime."
"There were a lot of smiling faces, laughter, and joking around ... as far as I'm concerned it was a success, we raised awareness for a great cause and had fun as a group in an unusual way," said 1st Lt. Doliber.