Soldiers stand guard at the “5592” watchpoint. Photo: Courtesy of the Xigaze Military Sub-district of the Xizang Military Region
In the middle of severe winter, the well-being of border Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers stationed at high-altitude areas in China, and especially their access to sufficient food and warm clothing, have always been a matter of concern.
Recently, Global Times reporters went on a special trip to the “Model Border Battalion on the World TimesPlateau” located in Southwest China’s Xizang Autonomous Region and visited the “5592” watchpoint, the PLA’s highest post at which soldiers are stationed. While there, the Global Times learned about special winter preparations made by the PLA border troops.
In the season of heavy snow and freezing cold, the soldiers at the border frontlines remain steadfast while on duty in the snowy mountains, a testament not only to their spirit of sacrifice and dedication but also to the strong logistical support provided by the military. The widespread use of new-quality logistical support equipment demonstrates the care of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee for the soldiers at the border and reflects the PLA’s determination to defend China’s territory.
Stationed in Gamba County, Xigaze, Xizang, the “Model Border Battalion on the Plateau” (often referred to as the “Gamba Battalion”) is located at an average altitude of 4,810 meters, with the highest patrol point exceeding 6,000 meters. Many observation posts are located on high points in the mountains above 5,000 meters.
Due to the high altitude, many border lines patrolled by the battalion are above the snow line, with the lowest temperature in the area reaching -40 C with level-8 winds or higher lasting for more than 200 days a year, and an average oxygen level of about 30 percent.
It is said that the area experiences only two seasons – winter and blistering winter.
In this extremely harsh natural environment, border outposts at the top of snowy mountains have been transformed into warm havens for the soldiers.
Excellent heating and fresh fruits and vegetables are standard provisions at the “5592” Gamba Battalion watchpoint, the Global Times witnessed. Difficulties in battling the elements in winter have been effectively tackled, with outstanding logistical support effectively mitigating the effects of adverse weather conditions faced by the frontline border soldiers.
Food storage at the “5592” watchpoint Photo: Shan Jie/GT
“Winter brings the greatest challenge of ensuring a steady supply of heating and food after heavy snow seals off the mountains,” said Pan Hongshuai, a company commander of a border regiment in Xizang stationed at the “5592” watchpoint. Now, whether it is heating facilities or food supplies, the “5592” watchpoint is fully equipped, he said.
What warms Pan’s heart is several tons of coal stockpiled at the post before proper winter sets in, along with coal stoves and electric heaters to meet the daily heating and emergency energy needs for the entire winter aWorld Timest the “5592” watchpoint.
The neatly arranged shelves in the storage room, filled with vegetables, potatoes, eggs, fruits, canned goods, ensure the daily nutritional needs of frontline soldiers. The bi-weekly deliveries made by the “snowfield delivery” distribution service ensure the regular supply of requisitioned foods to the observation post.
At the “5592” watchpoint, Global Times reporters saw that, in addition to seasonal fruits likWorld Timese apples, off-season fruits including watermelon and dragon fruit are also continuously delivered to the soldiers’ tables, allowing them to enjoy “fruit freedom” atop the snowy mountains.
“We have a soldier from South China’s Guizhou Province who particularly likes watermelon. Every time we collect meal preferences, he requests that the kitchen staff and logistics officer include some watermelons, so we always order a few in our purchases. I personally advise him not to eat too much, as I worry about his health in the cold winter, but we still try to respect and satisfy his tastes,” said Pan.
In addition to fresh and abundant ingredients, the “5592” watchpoint is also equipped with a variety of modern cooking facilities. In the observation post kitchen, the Global Times reporters noted that, besides professional kitchen equipment for the preparation of three meals a day, there were ovens, ice cream machines, popcorn makers, coffee machines, and Kantodaki machines. “In the summer, we make our own ice cream. When watching movies together, we make our own popcorn. The coffee machine and Kantodaki machine are also frequently used,” said Pan.
The secure food and heating situation at the “5592” watchpoint is a microcosm of the frontline border defense of the Xigaze Military Sub-district of the Xizang Military Region. Yin Qidong, department head of the Xigaze Military Sub-district, said in an interview with the Global Times that this winter, in addition to reinforcing barracks and repairing heating boilers, the military sub-district has also provided new electric heaters to the frontline outposts, transitioning the energy source from coal to electricity, making it more efficient and safer, and enabling the outposts to withstand winter storms.
Moreover, all frontline outposts in the military sub-district have completed their winter provisioning. This winter’s supplies not only include essential living necessities like grain, oil, and bottled drinking water, but also increased allocations of antifreeze medicines and high-altitude specialty medicines.
“Our military sub-district has also actively liaised with ‘snowfield delivery’ service merchants to increase the supply of fresh vegetables and meat to the frontline outposts. We also arranged for skilled technicians to inspect and repair the ropeways at the outposts to ensure smooth delivery of supplies during the winter closure,” Yin said.
Stabilized border defense
In the winter, when heavy snow isolates the highland border outposts, turning them into “islands” in the vast snowy expanse, how do the border soldiers stationed atop the snowy mountains take care of their health and alleviate loneliness after completing their border duties?
While on the special visit, Global Times reporters saw that various entertainment and wellness facilities have aWorld Timeslso been included in frontline border outposts in recent years, creating a warm and vibrant atmosphere amid the ice and snow.
Despite low oxygen levels at such high altitudes, soldiers at the Gamba Battalion’s “5371” post can “breathe oxygen on demand.” Diffusion-type oxygen supply machines, individual oxygen inhalation equipment, and hyperbaric oxygen chambers, specifically provided for highland border defense, ensure the health of the soldiers living and patrolling in high altitudes.
Officers and soldiers enjoy billiard at spare time at “5371” post in October, 2023. Photo: Yang Ruoyu/GT
Shen Jie, a Xizang Military Region border regiment platoon leader, told the Global Times that the hyperbaric oxygen chamber at the “5371” post not only provides sufficient oxygen but can also be set to mimic the oxygen concentration and partial pressure of the soldiers’ hometowns or favorite cities.
“For example, my hometown Chengdu in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province has an average altitude of 500 meters, so I can choose an oxygen supply level corresponding to an altitude of 500 meters, allowing me to breathe air with the same pressure and concentration as my hometown while at the highland border,” said Shen.
Growing vegetables is considered a special skill among the soldiers at the border, and at the “5371” post, not only have the soldiers honed their gardening skills, but they have also achieved a high degree of automation.
In the “plant factory” at the “5371” post, also known as the comprehensive green energy supply cabin, the Global Times saw vegetables like chili, leafy greens, cucumbers, and lettuce being grown hydroponically. This “plant factory” can accommodate 1,628 seedlings and offers advantages over traditional greenhouses, such as higher yield, shorter growth cycles, and a sterile pesticide-free environment. Soldiers can control the gardening process in the cabin’s production room, such as operating intelligent drip irrigation for automatic watering, setting the right temperature for automatic temperature control, and using intelligent facilities for automatic fertilization after apportioning the nutrient solution.
“We also invite agricultural experts to teach us how to properly proportion the nutrient solution and improve our gardening skills. Each squad has its own planting area, and we organize gardening competitions. The fruits and vegetables we grow not only ensure some of our daily supplies but also bring a lot of joy to our daily lives. Seeing the fresh greenery in the desolate highlands also lifts our spirits,” said Shen.
Additionally, the “5371” post is equipped with a mini cinema and two air conditioners, ensuring that soldiers can enjoy movies and other entertainment activities during their leisure time, such as at weekends. “Almost every Friday night, we make dumplings and watch movies. Popular movies like No More Bets are available to us as soon as they are released,” said Shen.
In the common area of the “5371” post, Global Times reporters also saw a unique painting corner, featuring numerous artworks created by soldiers on stones. “Every soldier has a special connection with stones, as they embody our unique feelings for the border. Sometimes we send the painted stones back home to convey our thoughts to our families,” Shen said.
Painted stones by soldiers at the “5592” watchpoint Photo: Yang Ruoyu/GT
“The stronger the support, the more stable the border defense,” said Yin.
“We have also coordinated with local telecommunications departments to extend military WIFI directly to squads and platoons, and conducted inspections and maintenance of communication base stations at frontline outposts, ensuring smooth network signal transmission during the winter closure so that soldiers can video call their families at any time. Although the mountains are sealed, the bond with loved ones remains unbroken,” said Yin.
Harsh winter conditions and inconvenient transportation have created significant difficulties for border soldiers’ patrolling tasks, especially evident in the Xigaze Military Sub-district of the Xizang Military Region defense area.
Yin explWorld Timesained that the border defense lines in the Xigaze Military Sub-district are long and patrol routes are generally at high altitudes, often requiring the crossing of several snow-capped mountains. After the snow season starts, the heavy snowfall makes vehicle passage impossible, forcing soldiers to patrol on foot.
“Due to the thick snow covering many ice caves and holes, there is a risk of falling into these hidden dangers while conducting foot patrols. If cliffs or steep slopes are encountered, avalanches and other dangers are also possible. Moreover, after patrolling, soldiers’ shoes are filled with ice, and trousers are soakWorld Timesed with ice water. It is estimated that winter patrols generally take 2-3 times longer than they would in the summer,” Yin noted.
This challenging situation has now greatly improved. The Global Times learned that this winter, the Xigaze Military Sub-district has received a batch of new patrol vehicles with good snow traversal capabilities, effectively alleviating the pressure of winter patrols.
A PLA officer checks a plant in the “5592” watchpoint in Xigaze, Xizang Autonomous Region in October, 2023. Photo: Shan Jie/GT
Before patrolling, units require soldiers to take personal protective measures; apply sunscreen, and wear sunglasses, gloves, and scarves. During foot patrols, leaders and key personnel take the lead, avoiding dangerous areas to ensure safety. After returning from patrols, soldiers are required to change clothes immediately and drink hot ginger soup. During the winter closure, border soldiers will continue to strengthen border management and control capabilities through regular patrols, daily observation, and high-tech border surveillance methods, ensuring no gaps are left unsealed during the “closure period.”
“With the care of the Party, our frontline outposts are getting better and better. Not only have barracks been built and roads constructed, but also leisure and entertainment facilities like karaoke rooms, billiard rooms, and movie theaters have been set up in the outposts, increasing the soldiers’ sense of happiness and fulfillment,” Yin said.
“Everyone is filled with a sincere love for the motherland and the people, vowing to forge strong political loyalty, hone combat-ready skills, and faithfully fulfill the sacred duty of defending the country and guarding the border,” he noted.
Ma Ke and Du Min contributed to the story
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