COMPILED BY THE KNOWLEDGE STAFF
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Rucker, Alabama
As much as we don’t like to think that our mothers and other sage advisers were right, the older we get, the more we realize how correct they were. The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” still holds true — especially when it comes to preventing heat-related illnesses.
Every year, leaders and Soldiers look for new ways, better techniques or magic bullets to eliminate or minimize heat illnesses in their formations. During training and combat operations, weather and environmental conditions are briefed as part of the overall operations plan. Also, risk mitigation is supposed to be incorporated into mission planning from start to finish. So what happens? Despite our best efforts, Soldiers still experience heat-related illnesses and, sadly, some die of these injuries.
Although leaders are held responsible for any injury, to include heat-related illnesses, the responsibility doesn’t stop there. Each Soldier is responsible to follow unit standing operating procedures, obey their noncommissioned officers and other leaders, watch out for their battle buddies and ensure they stay properly hydrated. Leaders need to ensure everything is being done correctly so risk-mitigation steps are executed. Also, as the day and temperature changes, plans need to be flexible so they can be adjusted to provide the maximum level of prevention available.
Summer is rapidly approaching and, in some areas of the world, temperatures are already on the rise. The Army’s operational tempo has not slowed down. Soldiers are training and going into combat in hot environments, carrying hefty loads and wearing heavy personal protective equipment. This equipment, while critical to Soldier survival, can strain and decrease the effectiveness of the body’s natural cooling mechanisms.
Remembering a key acronym, HEAT, will help identify factors which contribute to heat illnesses:
• High heat category, especially on several sequential days (measure Wet Bulb Globe Temperature when ambient temperature is more than 75 F)
• Exertion level of training, especially on several sequential days
• Acclimatization (and other individual risk factors)
• Time (length of heat exposure and recovery time)
Leaders must use the tools available to help emphasize the importance of preventing these needless losses to heat illnesses. Information is readily available on the U.S. Army Public Health Center website. The organization’s heat illness prevention page is filled with critical information describing the signs, symptoms and treatment options. The site includes ready-made presentations, as well as statistics, multimedia awareness materials and a heat illness risk mitigation matrix. You name it and the information is available.
There is another old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Such advice doesn’t apply when it comes to preventing heat-related illnesses. To stay fit to fight, leaders and Soldiers must take appropriate preventive measures and monitor themselves and their battle buddies for the signs of heat-related illnesses.
For more information on preventing heat illnesses, visit the Army Public Health Center’s website at https://phc.amedd.army.mil/topics/discond/hipss/pages/heatinjuryprevention.aspx
.Did You Know?
The following items are individual risks for heat casualties. The more factors, the higher the Soldier’s risk.
• Not acclimatized to heat (need 10 to 14 days to get trainees adequately acclimated)
• Exposure to cumulative days (two to three days) of any of the following:
o Increased heat exposure
o Increased exertion levels
o Lack of quality sleep
• Poor fitness
• Minor illness (cold symptoms, sore throat, low-grade fever, nausea, vomiting)
• Taking medications (either prescribed or over the counter), supplements or dietary aids (e.g., allergy or cold remedies or Ephedra supplements)
• Use of alcohol in the last 24 hours
• Prior history of heat illness (any heat stroke or more than two episodes of heat exhaustion)
• Skin disorders such as heat rash and sunburn that prevent effective sweating
• Age greater than 40 years