FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - Recently, a Soldier stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson drowned. One life lost is one too many. Water safety hazards can be minimized, incidents can be avoided.

Drownings are one of the leading causes of death within the U.S. Army. Drowning most often occurs during off-duty recreational swimming, in unauthorized swimming areas, after dark, and frequently involves alcohol.

In Alaska we have a very different lake and river ecosystem, with most of our rivers being glacier-fed. What this means is that the water temperatures are between 38-40 degrees, which can cause hypothermia. Because our rivers are glacier-fed, they are not clear, and there is a lot of silt in the water. Additionally, rivers in Alaska are extremely swift moving bodies of water with large pieces of debris moving in them.

Always wear the correct personal flotation devices when you are out boating/floating rivers in Alaska. If you are doing a float trip, ensure you use a licensed company. Ensure you have a properly fitted dry suit and helmet and your helmet strap is fastened.

When you are out swimming, always use the buddy system; know your own and your buddies' limits. Always swim in designated swimming areas, where there is a lifeguard on-duty. Obey "NO DIVING" signs. Never dive into a swimming area if you cannot see what is in the water. Always jump in feet first.

Alcohol does not mix with swimming, boating, or floating.

The garrison Installation Safety Office offers these tips:
Check local & state laws.
Take a water safety course. Courses are available at the Installation Safety Office.
Required: Personal flotation devices, also called PFDs, for everyone on the boat.
Ages 13 and younger - PFDs are required to be worn and may not drive the boat.
Alaska Water is COLD, COLD, COLD!
Coast Guard-approved is the answer.
Engaged leadership saves lives.

For more information, or to sign up for water-safety training for your group, call 353-7079.