CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 5 MARC ASSUMPCAO
U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center
Fort Rucker, Ala.
Every year, the Army loses Soldiers during the summer months to an invisible opponent — heat. Fortunately, these needless losses and other heat-related injuries can be prevented by the application of risk management.
The nature of our business requires Soldiers to always be prepared to operate in severe weather conditions with extreme temperatures; however, heat injuries can occur even when temperatures aren’t extreme. The cumulative effects of strenuous activity over time can result in a Soldier becoming a heat casualty during low-risk conditions. Leaders must remain engaged in order to provide the best protection for our Soldiers, and the best protection is prevention.
There are several control measures that will aid in heat-injury prevention, including monitoring wet bulb temperatures; paying closer attention when temperatures rise or when mission-oriented protective posture suits are worn; adjusting work and rest schedules; ensuring Soldiers are acclimated; conducting briefings on heat injury symptoms; checking Soldiers’ activities throughout the day; taking into account earlier exposure to environmental heat and possible dehydration; and using the buddy system.
Another control measure several units have implemented is the use of a Soldier tracking system, which is capable of providing real-time tracking. The Soldiers’ movements are monitored and displayed by a system that uses GPS information provided by the Soldiers’ player unit radios and transmitted to a transportable relay radio. The position reports are then routed through com¬puters to workstations that display the Soldiers’ positions on an aerial overlay of the land navigation area. The system is contained and does not rely on a web-based inter¬face.
In addition to prevention, it is critical leaders and Soldiers are able to identify and initiate the appropriate treatment measures for the different types of heat injuries. The most severe heat-induced illnesses are heat exhaustion and heat stroke. If action is not taken to treat heat exhaustion, the illness could progress to heat stroke and possibly death. To help avoid heat-related injuries, leaders and Soldiers should:
• Drink plenty of fluids. In hot environments, it’s possible for the body to lose one liter of fluids per hour. Thirst is not a good indicator of fluid loss. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink.
• Be aware of their environment. If you work in the heat or around heat sources, take whatever steps are possible to control the heat externally. It’s also recommended that ice sheets are readily available during high-risk activities to reduce the severity of a heat injury.
• Take frequent breaks. As the temperature increases, more frequent breaks are needed to stay cool.
• Wear proper clothing. Loose, lightweight fabrics encourage heat release.
• Acclimatize. It takes at least seven to 10 days to adjust to working in a hot environment.
• Stay in shape. A healthy heart and good muscle tone work more efficiently and generate less heat.
• Eat light during the workday. Hot, heavy meals add heat to the body and divert blood flow to aid with digestion. Normal dietary intake typically replaces all salt lost during the day, so there is no need to take salt supplements.
• Be aware of special heat stress risks. Caffeine, alcohol, diabetes or medications for high blood pressure and allergies can increase the risk of heat stress.
Risk management should be a continuous process applied across the full spectrum of Army training and operations. Through the engagement of our leaders, we can help ensure our Soldiers remain fit to fight.