Medics help Soldiers withstand heat at Operation River Assault
July 24, 2012
FORT CHAFFEE, Ark. (July 24, 2012) -- The Soldiers of the 412th Theater Engineer Command endured the sweltering heat of the south while participating in River Assault 2012 at Fort Chaffee, July 14-27.
Their saving grace is the presence of on-site medics at the range and the Troop Medical Clinic in cantonment, promoting preventative measures to avoid injuries and prepared to handle injuries should they occur.
A team of health care specialists, commonly known as combat medics, is out on the demolition range with supporting the engineers. Spc. Kevin Kovack, a medic with 388th Engineer Company, said the primary duties of a medic team include ensuring that every Soldier has a water source on them at all times, eats during their lunch break and takes advantage of the shaded areas whenever possible.
"I think using preventative medicine is a good method to follow," said Kovack. "I feel it's best to mesh in with the troops who I'm working with and make sure that they're doing the proper things and taking the proper precautions."
Kovack said staying hydrated in the extreme heat is very important, however some Soldiers are in danger of over hydration, which can lead to acute water intoxication, or water poisoning. This happens when Soldiers are constantly drinking water, but not eating enough to balance out the nutrients they are losing during training. Therefore, the water is depleting nutrients in the salts and the electrolytes in the body and no fuel remains to keep the Soldier going, explained Kovack.
"If that happens, you're going to start feeling extremely weak," Kovack said. "Feeling weak, woozy, dizzy, etc. in this kind of weather means you are likely going to become a heat casualty. At that point, water alone is not going to keep you from falling out."
In addition to the preventative approach, the medics on-site are there in case of emergency. From bandages to moleskin and minor afflictions, the medics are able to patch up the troops and get them back to training, explained Kovack. However, for more serious injuries, such as fractures or wounds that require surgery, medics will cover the injury, prepare the patient for transportation and get them to the Troop Medical Clinic, or TMC, or Battalion Aide Station for further treatment.
The TMC located in building 1340, has a staff of two nurse practitioners, and 10 medics on hand, said Spc. D'Ontray Townsend, Headquarters Company, 391st Engineer Battalion who works in the TMC and assists in the care of troops. During the first week of the exercise, an average of 15-18 troops per day were seen, and now they see approximately 25-30 troops daily.
The TMC offers anything from sick call to sutures, providing Soldiers with medication, profiles and standard medical care. Townsend states, if the required aid can't be provided by nurse practitioners, such as X-rays, Soldiers will be transported to the local hospital.
Townsend said the most common case he encounters is Soldiers being fatigued. Not necessarily heat injuries, but Soldiers from other regions of the country are often not accustomed to this type of climate and they soon find out that they can't perform as they could back home.
"Some of the best practices are to follow the work/rest cycle, drinking water, and eating properly to replenish those nutrients lost during training," said Townsend. "Completing the mission is important, but don't over exert yourself to where you put yourself or others in danger."
With the intense heat of the training area, it's common knowledge to stay hydrated. However, Townsend has previously encountered situations where troops had misconceptions about the best methods for hydration.
"A couple of Soldiers came in drinking salt water. They mixed table salt into their drinking water thinking that it replenishes the nutrients, but that's not necessarily true," said Townsend. "They are confusing table salt with oral hydration salt. Oral hydration salts have potassium, sodium and other ions the body needs but regular table salt doesn't. The best way to balance your salt intake is to eat properly."
Whether training out on the range or needing medical attention during sick call hours, the medics supporting River Assault 2012 have the troops covered. Medical teams play a crucial role in training missions by keeping troops healthy and getting sick and injured Soldiers well again so they can get back out on the range, explained Townsend.
When it comes to training in this type of climate, both Kovack and Townsend say they feel preventative care is the best medicine. Kovack even walks around the staging area of the demolition range filling up the troops' water bottles and canteens for them.
"The way I look at it," Kovack said, "if I do my job, that means I don't have to do my job."