As temperatures rise, Fort Benning soldiers practice treating heat exhaustion

benw@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 1, 2013 

As the Chattahoochee Valley enters the hot days of summer, drill sergeants at Fort Benning are keeping an eye on trainees who are not accustomed to the sweltering heat in the South.

Members of the 198th Infantry Brigade held a "man down" drill at Sand Hill last week to demonstrate how to treat victims of heat exhaustion.

"Some soldiers that are transitioning into the Army, they come from different climates of the United States," said Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Coombs. "They are not used to working 10-plus hours a day, not used to wearing a uniform and carrying 35 pounds-plus of equipment."

With about 2,400 trainees and cadre soldiers in the brigade, Coombs said calls go out daily for emergency personnel to help an ill soldier battling the heat.

1st Sgt. Michael Sanchez said the heat at Fort Benning has overpowered weather conditions in any place he has been assigned. He has been to the California desert and high altitude locations in Afghanistan.

"Here, it is beating you inside and out," Sanchez said. "It's hard to breathe, 50 meters of walking and your arm pits are sweating and body fluids are out. You haven't started PT and you already exerted yourself 15-20 percent."

During the "man down" drill, Spc. Michael Doumas collapsed behind the brigade's headquarters building. Rushing to his side, two soldiers first looked for training injuries before taking his body temperature for heat-related risks.

If the soldier is hurt from a training injury, the trainee is treated before emergency medical personnel arrive. A temperature of 101.9 triggers an action plan for heat injury.

"If it's heat related, we will start the ice sheeting," Coombs said.

To apply the sheeting, all clothes are stripped from the fallen soldier except for underwear. Soldiers pull white sheets from a long cooler filled with ice and water. An icy sheet is placed on five areas of the victim: one in each armpit, the groin area and one around the neck area without covering the face. A fifth sheet covers the victim from the top of the neck to the bottom of his feet.

Soldiers assisting the victim continue taking the body's temperature until emergency personnel arrive. A drop in temperature could occur within minutes with a person wrapped in the special ice sheeting.

Coombs said the brigade sees heat related injuries between the months of April and October. To prepare for a heat-related emergency, drill sergeants stock the coolers daily with the sheets, water and ice.

After the exercise, Coombs said he's pleased with how soldiers reacted.

"It went well," he said. "The soldiers knew how to act and demonstrated efficiency. It's something they are introduced to from day one. Unfortunately, it is something we have to do this cycle down here at Fort Benning during the summer."

During training, Coombs said soldiers are encouraged to drink plenty of water and reduce salty foods.

"We try to work people more than an hour or so at a time," Coombs said. "We drink at least a quart or two of water every hour and we modify clothing when necessary to help the body breathe."

Sanchez said the process used at Fort Benning and other Army installations could help youths in sports training.

"This is probably the most effective way to maintain and mitigate risk," he said. "That is the best way to do it."

Last year, the region had record highs of 105 degrees on June 29 and followed with an all-time high of 106 on June 30, but those highs aren't expected this year, said Bob Jeswald, meteorologist for WRBL TV3.

The area can expect temperatures in the 90s in July and August, the hottest months during the summer, he said. A high pressure system in the Atlantic in the Bahamas and the Gulf of Mexico will keep temperatures more seasonal.

"We are almost seasonal," he said. "We are average right now."

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