Cold front leads to extra precautions
January 14, 2010
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- On a recent blustery day when temperatures barely rose above freezing, Sgt. 1st Class Chandra Davis kept a close eye on the Soldiers of Company C, 3rd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment, as they trained in combat-movement tactics.
"You actually have to make them drink water," said Davis, a drill sergeant for 3-13th. "They don't want to drink water when it's cold outside like this."
But, just like in hot weather, it's critical to stay hydrated, even when weather conditions are frigid. Dehydration is just one of the many hazards faced by Soldiers training in cold weather.
Drinking water and eating more calories than usual are two ways of warding off cold-weather injuries, said Don Busbice, a safety specialist with the Fort Jackson Safety Center.
"To maintain body heat in winter, the body needs 25 to 35 percent more calories," said Busbice, who trains units on cold-weather injury prevention. "You have to eat and drink, especially when it's cold out."
Cold weather has certainly been an issue at Fort Jackson in recent days as arctic fronts have blasted South Carolina and the rest of the Southeast with icy winds. The temperatures are expected to moderate through the weekend, but winter weather is far from over.
However, it doesn't have to be freezing for hypothermia and other cold-weather injuries to strike. Anytime the temperature falls to 60 degrees or below is when injuries can happen.
Hypothermia is when the body's temperature drops due to exposure to the wind or water. It's a dangerous condition that, if severe enough, can sometimes lead to death.
Other common cold-weather injuries are: chilblains, superficial ulcers of the skin that occur when repeatedly exposed to cold; frostbite involves the freezing and destruction of exposed skin, usually the extremities such as fingers and toes; trench foot or immersion foot is due to repetitive exposure to wet, non-freezing temperatures.
Some people are more at-risk for cold injuries than others, Busbice said. For example, African-Americans are four times more likely to suffer cold-weather injuries than Caucasians, and women are twice as likely as men to end up with a cold-related injury. Other risk groups include people 45 and older, and tobacco users.
Busbice said chilblains and mild hypothermia are the two most common cold-related injuries at Fort Jackson.
"Any injury here is a concern," Busbice said. "An injury that we prevent will keep a Soldier on task for training and to graduate."
Drill sergeants and other cadre are taught to recognize the warning signs of cold-weather injuries and how to instruct Soldiers to dress properly, such as using layers of clothing that can be added or removed as conditions change.
Drill sergeants are also instructed to make sure Soldiers keep their feet dry and change their socks often. Drill sergeants keep a close eye on their Soldiers because many new trainees are reluctant to complain, no matter how cold they get.
Many training sites at Fort Jackson are stocked with "warming tents" equipped with heaters or stoves so that Soldiers can get a respite from the cold weather.
But Busbice said the use of heaters in enclosed spaces can create another cold-weather danger: carbon-monoxide poison-
"Carbon-monoxide poisoning is a big fear of ours," Busbice said. To prevent it, cadre receive instructions on how to use the warming tents properly.
Cold weather rarely stops training at Fort Jackson, though commanders can modify training exercises if conditions are especially cold.
"If it gets too hot, we'll stop training," said 1st Sgt. Frederick Green, Company D, 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment. "We don't usually do that in cold weather."