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Heat-related illness increasing among U.S. military personnel

US Military and Extreme Heat

An Army Ranger trainee completes a 12-mile march at Fort Benning, Georgia, while wearing heat sensors to measure core temperature and heart rate. (Brock Stoneham/NBC News)

By Marc Kodack

Heat-related illnesses (heat stroke and heat exhaustion) have increased among U.S. military personnel since 2008 according to a July 23, 2019, investigative news story jointly released by Inside Climate News, an independent news organization that focuses on climate, energy and the environment, and Increasing temperature driven by climate change has not only health, but security implications for U.S. military and local populations, and the issue is worth exploring further.

It is estimated that the health effects of heat to the U.S. military have cost almost $1 billion in “lost work, retraining and medical care” between 2008 to 2018. Background information for the story included examining reports on heat related deaths and interviews. “The reports document a poor level of awareness of the dangers of heat illness and the decisions of commanders who pushed troops beyond prudent limits in extremely hot conditions…The military continues to wrestle with finding a sustainable, comprehensive strategy for how to train in sweltering conditions” despite on-going efforts to revise policies and procedures to lower heat illnesses. New equipment is also being developed for both mounted and dismounted Soldiers to keep them coolerCommercial individual Soldier equipment is now available.

Part of the reason that Soldiers train in elevated temperatures and heat, is the belief that it better prepares Soldiers for the kinds of conditions that they may encounter during actual combat in areas of the world where current or future military operations may occur, such as the Middle East and Africa. Future climate projections anticipate a continued rise in global temperatures exacerbating the conditions that the U.S. military personnel and their equipment will have to operate in. While training needs to be as realistic as possible, it also has to recognize the physiological limits of the human body under stress, such as heat effects and their implications to significantly degrade individual personnel performance. 

Dr. Marc Kodack Dr. is a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Center for Climate and Security. Before retiring from federal service in 2018 with over 31 years of experience, Marc served as the Water Program Manager in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Energy and Sustainability within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment.   

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