By Fort Sill Tribune staffAugust 1, 2019
FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Aug. 1, 2019) -- Because this is the hottest time of year here, heat injury prevention is a priority in basic combat training (BCT). Trainees spend a lot of time outdoors performing vigorous physical activities, such as road marches, running obstacle courses, fighting with pugil sticks; hours shooting on rifle ranges, and in field training exercises.
Steps are taken to ensure trainees and staff are kept safe, said Capt. Dylan Rice, D Battery, 1st Battalion, 31st Field Artillery commander.
"The (434th Field Artillery) Brigade as a whole tries to keep serious heat injuries from happening," Rice said. "We go through a lot of precautions, it slows the training down, but it's worth it to not injure trainees."
Early in BCT, trainees are taught in a classroom about heat and cold injury prevention because of the Oklahoma weather extremes, Rice said. They learn the importance of hydration regardless of the season, and are issued portable water bladders, i.e. Camelbak. Safety posters and pamphlets located throughout the battery are a constant reminder to practice weather safety.
Trainees from D/1-31st FA were at the 1st Lt. Frederick Henry Medical Training Lanes July 18. They were in week seven of the nine-week BCT. The heat category was 3, and the air temperature was about 84 degrees at 9 a.m. Heat category 5 is the highest and most dangerous condition, Rice said.
Before every training event safety factors are considered. One of the main ways to protect the trainees is to avoid strenuous training outdoors during peak temperatures altogether, Rice said.
"A lot of times we plan to do the physical activities in the evening, or at night," he said.
When they are training in the field, the drill sergeants are constantly monitoring the heat category, and continually remind trainees to drink water.
A 400-gallon water tank, called a water buffalo, is at the training site. Sometimes ice is added to the water, Rice said. "Sometime we'll distro (distribute) ice out to the individuals to put in their Camelbak."
Trainees filled 5-gallon jugs of ice with water and placed them around the training lanes. They also used the water buffalo to fill their Camelbaks, as well as to douse their patrol caps.
Every 30 minutes, a drill sergeant will read the wetbulb globe temperature index that sits in direct sunlight in the training area, Rice said.
The wetbulb uses three thermometers to gauge the humidity, evaporation, and air temperature to determine the wetbulb index and heat category. Work-to-rest cycles for heat categories are spelled out in directives, and allow trainees appropriate time to cool down between activities.
A digital hand-held globe thermometer supplements the wetbulb globe temperature index, Rice said.
During a training event, drill sergeants also receive hourly updates from Range Operations about the heat category, Rice said. They will always go with the higher heat category whether it comes from range operators, or their own readings in their training area.
There are cooling stations for the trainees during rest periods.
Solar shades are large mesh awnings that block 56 percent of sunlight so they offer trainees protection during rest breaks, Rice said. Power breezers provide a fine, cooling mist of water, and they can be used with the solar shades.
In heat category 5, modification to wear the Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP) uniform is authorized. Trainees can loosen their pant legs from their boots and cuff the pants.
They can also unbutton their sleeve cuffs, demonstrated Rice, moving his arm around to show how air flowed through the now-open sleeve.
"If we're doing a lot of strenuous activity we'll just do it automatically, and wear that most of the day," he said.
Large ice chests filled with ice-cold water are spaced around the training areas. These are for immersing the trainees' OCP-clothed forearms.
For a quick cool-down the arms are immersed about 20 seconds, then pulled out and and lifted straight up which allows the blouse to absorb the cold water, Rice said. Longer periods are used for trainees who may need it.
"The ice water cools their blood which reduces their core temperature," Rice said. He noted that it can be kind of painful keeping limbs immersed in ice water.
Rice said that trainees do not take salt tablets. Training and Doctrine Command does not authorize the use of oral hydration salts.
The Deployable Rapid Assembly Shelter, or DRASH tent, has a generator hooked up to an air conditioner and heater, pumping cold air into a tent, Rice said. Trainees sit still in the tent in their T-shirts, as the 65-degree temperature cools them down. They remain in the DRASH from 30 minutes to one hour.
Still, with all the precautions heat injuries occur. When a trainee is exhibiting the symptoms, such as confusion, nausea, weakness, muscle cramps, he or she is removed from training, Rice said. Their body temperature is determined and appropriate action is taken.
If the temperature is 101 or above, the trainee is ice sheeted. They are wrapped like a burrito in ice-cold sheets.
"Through evaporative cooling it will chill them down very quickly between 15 and 30 minutes," Rice said. "They'll usually be shivering by the time we let them out."
The injured trainee is transported in a dedicated casualty evacuation vehicle to an ambulance exchange point. At the AXP, an ambulance crew would then take the victim to a local emergency room. Range Operations coordinates the rendezvous at the AXP.
Ice sheets are also used as a preventive measure, Rice said. "If we identify someone who looks kind of woozy on a ruck march, we'll ice sheet them just as a precaution."
At the Medical Training Lanes, Drill Sergeant (Staff Sgt.) Derick Northam, D/1-31st FA, reminded his trainees to drink water, get their calories by eating all their Meals, Ready to Eat, and watch their battle buddies.
"You might not be able to notice that something is going on with you, but your battle buddy may see it," he said. "You need to take that tactical knee before it gets serious."
Northam said the brigade takes numerous measures to ensure trainee safety.
"I've never seen this many precautions, even at FORSCOM (Forces Command), which is good," he said.