FORT RUCKER, Ala. (Oct. 2, 2017) - Do you want to know the secret to staying warm? Don't get cold.
At the beginning of a winter training course here at the Northern Warfare Training Center at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, I'll occasionally pose that question to a group of Soldiers. Some look disappointed when I tell them the answer. Others, however, get it right away and their whole outlook on winter training changes in an instant. By the end of the course, most of them understand the simplicity of this complex and often daunting task.
Fort Wainwright is probably the coldest post in the U.S. military. During the winter months, the temperatures regularly drop to minus 20 F or below for weeks at a time. We teach units in U.S. Army Alaska and, to a smaller degree, other military personnel how to operate in a cold, snow-covered, mountainous area. We train about 500 students a year who then go back and become the trainers for their respective units. The following are some of the training tips we pass down to Soldiers.
Fuel your body - The first step to staying warm in a cold environment is to properly fuel your body. Depending on your exertion level, Soldiers should consume between 4,500 and 6,000 calories and 3.5 to 5 quarts of water per day. Light infantrymen will require the upper end of that scale, while someone who works in the tactical operations center will be on the lower end.
Meals, Ready to Eat provide about 1,400 calories per menu, so four per day will usually do the job. Meals, Cold Weather provide about 1,700 per meal. However, palatability is a challenge. MCWs require rehydration for the main meal component. This is best accomplished with boiling water. You can mix cold water with MCWs, but it will take longer to rehydrate and the food won't be as pleasant.
An MRE can be used even after being frozen, but it must not be refrozen. The main components of the meal can be placed inside clothing for an hour or so to thaw, or even put in a sleeping bag overnight for a "warmish" breakfast. The other part of the meal, "grazing foods," should be eaten between meals to refuel your body. Remember, a near constant calorie intake is vital to staying warm.
Cover your body - Clothing should do three things: insulate, ventilate and provide protection from the wind. The older Extreme Cold Weather Clothing System and newer seven-layer Generation III ECWCS both do this very well. The challenge is figuring out what to do with all that clothing.
The most important measure to take with any clothing system is to layer. Start out with the lightest polypropylene underwear and build from there. The layers then must be protected by a shell. The ECWCS Gore-Tex pants/jacket combo is an excellent all-around choice. The soft-shell pants/jacket from the seven-layer system works best in high-aerobic activities in very cold conditions.
Heat management is a constant challenge when operating in cold weather. Knowing when to dump or hold heat is the key. I watch students after the 10K snowshoe march and quite a few will be dripping with sweat at the finish. They invariably say, "I just wanted to get it over with." I counter with, "What would you do if you were forced to stay outside for another five or so hours?" They usually don't have an answer.
Soldiers must ventilate before it is needed and reduce insulation prior to a movement or exertion. The big, puffy suit in the seven-layer system is meant to be put on while static and put away when moving. Likewise, that fleece jacket may be soft and cuddly and quite the fashion accessory around post, but you really don't need to wear it on a good, long dismounted movement. If at all possible, have dry layers available to replace or upgrade clothing if needed.
Move your body - Cold weather requires people to be proactive. If your fingers become cold, windmill your arms to force blood into the fingertips. Cold toes? Wiggle them or swing your legs. Shivering? Exercise a little. The point is to not allow cold to gain ground in your body.
Observe the other people around you, looking beyond the obvious. We know what is wrong with the Soldier who is shivering and twitching on the ground or has a white patch on his nose. The Soldier who escapes our attention is the one who stands perfectly still with his head drawn down between his shoulders and his arms hanging stiffly at his sides. He grumbles at tiny issues, mumbles when addressed, fumbles when handling simple things and stumbles when walking on easy ground. This Soldier needs help now; but just as important, look for the symptoms of cold weather injury in yourself.
At the NWTC, the cadre not only trains in the cold, they enjoy the weather. Winter doesn't have to be a time of fear and loathing. Embrace the cold - but be smart about it.
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