- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Enduring temperatures climbing into the upper 90s in the Washington area this week, people mopped the sweat from their foreheads and counted steps until they reached the welcome relief of air-conditioned homes and offices.

Soldiers in Iraq, however, don’t always have those options. With the summer temperatures topping 120 degrees Fahrenheit, soldiers patrolling the streets 18 hours a day, seven days a week, face a much different battle.

“You’re wearing your body armor, that’s got to weigh, I’d guess, a good 60 pounds,” said Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth McCooey, who returned in February 2007 from a 12-month deployment in Afghanistan. “Then you throw on a helmet, and a weapon and ammunition. And you’re carrying water.

“It’s cracking 100 degrees over there during the day, and at the end of a mission, when you peel off your body armor, it’s literally soaked through.”

Dan Shaltanis is the director of operations for the 28th Operational Weather Squadron, which does weather forecasting and observation services for the coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

While the temperature in the winter months has dipped as low as 27 degrees, to the point of allowing snowflakes, low temperatures in summer tend to stay around the mid-80s.

He said the peak temperature recorded in Baghdad was 124 degrees in August.

“By 9 or 10 in the morning, it’s already above 90 degrees in the summer,” Sgt. McCooey said. “It’s really an all-day thing, dealing with the heat.”

Soldiers employ various methods to battle the heat, including putting baby powder in their boots to keep them dry and wearing lots of sunscreen.

Somewhat ironically, the best way to protect themselves from the blistering temperatures is to wear more, not less, clothing.

“A lot wear gloves, because your weapons get so hot,” Sgt. McCooey said. “You will literally hurt or burn your hand” if you touch a metal gun.

Similarly, though long-sleeve uniforms are hotter, they help in the long run by decreasing the risk of painful sunburn.

One soldier commented it was like the Bedouins, or desert nomads, who wore several layers of clothing to protect themselves from the sun.

Of course, he noted wryly, they were wearing white, not camouflage.

The biggest help, of course, is simply staying hydrated, but when the water itself is so hot it tastes like “someone’s swimming pool,” it’s not as easy as it sounds.

“Some might say, ‘Hey, Sarge, I’m not thirsty,’” Sgt. McCooey said. “‘Well, brother, you need to drink water, because if you don’t, the heat will get to you.’”

For longer missions, the importance of conserving water means cutting out daily rituals civilians take for granted.

Like showering.

“Things like shaving, bathing go right out the window,” Sgt. McCooey said. “Water for hygiene becomes really limited, because what you’ve got is what you’ve got, and when it’s gone, it’s gone.”

He said he carries two quarts of water with him wherever he goes, and multiday missions require water trucks.

“You really can’t underscore the importance of water.”

Troops also have to look after one another, as the risk of heatstroke and fatigue are greatly increased.

“You really have to monitor your soldiers, and your soldiers have to monitor you,” Sgt. McCooey said. “It’s a team effort.”

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