FORT SILL, Oklahoma (June 14, 2018) — As Oklahoma enters its hottest months, heat safety is a priority in basic combat training (BCT) because trainees spend a lot of time outdoors performing physical training (PT), ruck marching to rifle ranges, and going through obstacle courses and field training exercises, for nine weeks.
From the Training and Doctrine Command general, who sets policy to prevent heat injuries; to commanders, who implement the regulations; to the drill sergeants, who execute the instructions to keep trainees safe, everyone has a role, said Lt. Col. Ralph Heaton, 1st Battalion, 40th Field Artillery, commander.
“We all take it extremely seriously because the last thing we need is for someone to be injured by something that is completely preventable,” Heaton said. If trainees suffer injuries, that will prevent them from completing BCT on time, and consequently delay them from attending advanced individual training and reporting for their first duty assignment. So ultimately it affects the readiness of the force.
Drill sergeants from B Battery, 1-40th FA, were at the Teamwork Development Course (TDC) the morning of June 7, putting the trainees through one of their first teambuilding events. The TDC was one of better-shaded ranges at Fort Sill, and as trainees progress through BCT the training areas get more spartan, Heaton said.
From Day one, trainees learn about heat awareness, and the importance of hydration regardless of the season.
All trainees are issued water bladders (i.e, Camelbak) that they wear like backpacks, and are regularly reminded to drink by the drill sergeants, Heaton said. At training sites, potable-water trailers, called water buffalos, are in close proximity to the trainees, so they can fill their individual Camelbaks, as well as five-gallon water jugs strategically placed around the training area.
“First, we want them (trainees) to continuously drink water and hydrate themselves, and proper nutrition also helps to mitigate their risk factors for becoming a heat injury,” Heaton said.
“We also encourage them to look out for their buddies, so if they notice signs and symptoms of a heat illness or heat injury to immediately notify the cadre.”
Before any training event takes place safety factors are considered, the commander said.
“It starts with an overall risk assessment of the range itself,” he said. “The morning (of the event) we adjust that risk assessment based on the environmental conditions of that day, whether it is severe storms, severe weather, or the heat, or in the winter the extreme cold because of wind chill.”
If conditions are extreme, the drill sergeants talk with their commanders to modify the training, ensuring it still gets done.
At the TDC every 30 minutes drill sergeants read a wetbulb globe temperature index calculator that sat in direct sunlight, said Drill Sergeant (Staff Sgt.) Bethany Harris. The wetbulb gauges weather conditions, such as humidity, air temperature, which are used to determine the wet bulb index, and subsequently the heat category.
When it reaches Heat Category 3, modifications to the wear of the Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP) uniforms are authorized. Trainees can loosen their pant legs from their boots and cuff them; and undo their wrist cuffs, Heaton said. This provides for a better airflow through the uniform.
During Heat Category 5, the most dangerous condition, the work-to-rest cycle is adjusted to allow the trainees appropriate time to cool down.
One technique used on trainees to lower body temperature is arm immersion in ice-cold water, about 34-degrees, for about 15 seconds, Harris said. Soldiers keep their OCP blouse on for the immersion and when they remove their arms from the dip they hold them straight up, so that the water stays in the sleeves to help keep them cooler longer. Trainees used the technique at the TDC.
“It felt great; it’s so hot outside that the cool water does the trick,” said Pvt. Francisco Maldonado.
Areas for trainees to cool down and recover are also provided at training sites.
A solar shade is a mesh awning that provides large areas of shade. Misting fans under the solar shade use 30 gallons of water and ice to provide a cool, moist airflow to trainees, explained Harris.
Another method to dump body heat is the Deployable Rapid Assembly Shelter, or DRASH tent, Harris said. Trainees sit still in their T-shirts in the 65-degree tent, and might remain there from 30 minutes to one hour.
Drill sergeants pay close attention to trainees, especially those who came from Northern states because they may not be as acclimated to the heat, looking for heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke. All the drill sergeants have completed combat lifesaver training, Harris said.
If a Soldier suffers a heat injury, drill sergeants can apply ice sheets (iced towels) on the victim. They are kept onsite in ice chests. Drill sergeants also have immediate communications to emergency services on and off post, Heaton said.
If a trainee suffers from heat stroke, they can be medically evacuated by drill sergeants to an ambulance exchange point where they would be transferred onto an emergency vehicle and transported to a medical facility. As an extra precaution, landing zones are established at remote training sites if an air MEDEVAC is necessary.