Guidelines help Soldiers in extreme temps
June 27, 2013
"Beat the heat" was a common phrase many anti-Miami Heat basketball fans chanted for months while the franchise was en route to a consecutive National Basketball Association championship.
Although the phrase was used at an increasingly frequent rate as the NBA playoff bracket dwindled from 16 teams to two, and throughout the 2013 NBA Finals, it has been used throughout the Army and its sister services every summer with different implications, of course.
When recruits join the Army in the spring and summer Basic Combat Training rotations, one of the first things they are taught is to stay hydrated and beat the heat.
Often, the concept is imbedded in their minds through repetitive dialogue between drill sergeants and recruits as follows:
Drill sergeant: Drink water.
Recruits: Beat the heat drill sergeant, beat the heat.
Afterward, the recruits drink water from their personal hydration systems.
June 21, the summer solstice, marked the first day of summer for those who live in the Northern Hemisphere. While summer for many people means barbecues, swimming pools, vacation time and camping trips, Army leaders embrace cautiously the opportunity to get outdoors, and get away like an American eagle with olive branches in one talon and arrows in the other.
Michael Arite, 75th Fires Brigade safety and occupational health manager, said the hottest periods of the year for Oklahoma are between mid-July to around the end of August to Labor Day.
He encouraged individuals to ensure they have controls in place to combat heat, especially when participating in outdoor activities for prolonged periods of time.
"One of the biggest precautions we have available to us as a resource is a heat injury prevention pocket guide," he said. "Effectively, it's a small little pocket-foldout guide that outlines what the different heat categories are, which are everything from green all-the-way to 5, or what we call category black heat."
Arite said the guide helps leaders and their Soldiers to readily know what work-rest guidelines have been set in placed by the Army, which is based on the degree of heat and level of humidity in the immediate working area.
He cautioned leaders to continually monitor thermometers and to implement composite risk management by using available control measurements to mitigate risk.
One such control for Soldiers working on a grass cutting detail in category black heat conditions is: the Soldiers must work on a 15-to-45 minutes work-rest cycle.
Arite further explained after 15 minutes of cutting the grass, another Soldier should be rotated in to continue the detail. The process is repeated until the detail is completed or stopped.
In addition to monitoring environmental conditions, Arite said leaders, like drill sergeants with recruits, must continually ensure their Soldiers are properly hydrated.
As recruits in the BCT environment don't have access to the energy drinks and electrolyte replenishing drinks available to Soldiers who are assigned to non-BCT units, it becomes increasingly challenging for leaders to ensure their Soldiers are not causing more harm than good with sports drinks.
Arite suggested drinking water and electrolyte replenishing drinks at a 1-to-1 ratio.
Additionally, he recommended individuals should refrain from using energy drinks in high-heat situations.
"There is nothing better for the human body in hot weather than good fresh water," he said. "Most safety and medical professionals say not to exceed more than 16-ounces of water per hour.
Drinking too much water can lead to water intoxication, he said. This happens when the amount of water consumed dilutes blood to the point where it becomes so thin it cannot carry nutrients through the body that organs need.
"If a Soldier begins to start feeling nauseated and a little weak and they have been drinking water," he said, "that would be a good sign he or she drank too much water. It would be a good idea to get that Soldier out of the heat, into a cool environment and to a hospital as soon as possible because they need to try to get their potassium and sodium balanced back out."
As an overall safety precaution when trying to beat the heat and save a Soldier who shows signs or has symptoms of a heat injury, Arite recommends one simple guideline: "If it doesn't look right, it's probably not; get them out of there as soon as possible."