A trainee with 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment puts his arms in an arm immersion cooling tank during training. The tanks allow Soldiers to rapidly cool by putting their forearms into a tank of ice water. (Photo by Saskia Gabriel)
By Alexandra Shea Fort Jackson Leader
South Carolina has earned its moniker of “Famously Hot” throughout the years with temperatures soaring into the 90s and combined with high humidity. For most this weather means shorts, tank tops and flip flops, but for Fort Jackson trainees it can mean heat injuries from minor cramps to heat stroke.
“Heat illnesses occur year round in training environments and increase significantly in warmer weather,” said Gen. Paul E. Funk, commander of Training and Doctrine Command, in a recent Red Hash Alert for heat mitigation. “From 1996 to the present, the Army has lost a Soldier every year to heat.”
Trainees from across the country are shipped monthly to Fort Jackson to complete 10 weeks of Basic Combat Training.
For trainees from northern states, the change of weather can be difficult.
Here is where drill sergeants come to assist. Each receives extensive training in how to reduce the risk of heat injury and illness while continuing the transformation process of turning civilians into professionally trained Soldiers.
“Reducing heat illness injuries this summer is our top safety priority,” said Will Gutherie, Fort Jackson safety director. “We can reduce the surge through leadership involvement and oversight.”
All training battalion leadership assess each days temperature and modify training plans as needed based on the conditions. Work and rest cycles are implemented for trainees conducting training events outdoors.
Trainees are also allowed to roll their sleeves and pant legs up to help acclimate them to the high heat and humidity the state is known for.
Trainees also carry individual hydration packs to ensure they have water at all times. Ice sheets, arm immersion tanks and other heat safety devices are also offered at training sites.
A trainee can submerge their arms in the ice water for 10-15 seconds then raise their arms above their heads. This allows slightly cooled blood to flow throughout their bodies, lowering their body temperatures without causing harm.
Due to the COVID-19 virus, BCT looks and operates differently now. Trainees wear cloth face covering during training events and small amount of disinfectants are added to the arm immersion tanks to help prevent the spread of the virus.
“I must say that we are, and have done, extremely well,” said Army Training Center and Fort Jackson Commander Brig. Gen. Milford “Beags” Beagle Jr. “We continue to do what we do, but better.”
Beagle also said proper nutrition plays a key role in preventing heat injuries and illness.
While trainees on the installation already eat meals tailored to maintain proper nutrition and are restricted from taking supplements, cadre and support Soldiers across across the installation are encouraged to heed Beagle’s advice.
“It’s the humidity that sneaks up on people here,” said Staff Sgt. Joshua Young,
17th Military Police Detachment and Non-commissioned Officer in Charge of Physical Security Division. “We wear gear that’s weights 15-20 pounds all day and it can get hot in there. I have had days that my t-shirt and top are soaking wet. It’s crucial to stay hydrated.
“As NCOs we always check on our people and ask them if they are feeling ok,” he added. “I’ve had Soldiers pass out on me and it is not fun. Drinking water, rotating people (on duty), taking breaks as often as possible, and modifying uniforms in higher heat categories are some of the ways we keep people safe.”
Young also said heat mitigation techniques taught to Soldiers and trainees on the installation can be used off-duty as well to keep Family members safe as well.
“You can absolutely use heat mitigation in your personal life,” Young said. “It’s all about keeping people safe.”
For more information about heat illness and injury prevention, visit www.phs.amedd.army.mil for complete lists of tips and techniques.