Physical Fitness and Training
Winter operations: Installment 2
Sleeping in the open winter night
This particular article involves sleeping and getting rest in outside conditions during the winter operation months. Winter itself is a deadly time of year. Without proper warmth and shelter or at least survival techniques and skills a human can loose their life simply due to exposure and lack of energy. Hence, it is important to keep a couple of tips in mind while out in the winter elements as a field ready soldier:
1.) If you forget everything else make sure you have the proper clothing and footwear. If you do not have these you are going to have a rather miserable time in the least or you will be saying “Hello” to God in the very worst. Dress for the occasion!
2.) A soldier believe it or not does NOT need a sleeping bag to survive – as unbelievable as that may sound. However he/she does need in the very least a poncho liner/blanket and the ALL IMPORTANT ground pad. The human body will quickly loose large amounts of heat if direct contact to cold ground is maintained for large periods of time without movement. The ground pad insulates the body from giving away this energy to the environment and makes the largest difference for sleeping. If a ground pad can not be obtained any soft pine branches, hay, dried grass or other material that can be amply piled up to trap air under the body will help immensely.
3.) If at all possible (sometimes it is NOT possible) try to place positions next to wind breaks to reduce the effects of wind chill. Luckily since most positions are placed around cover….. That cover also has the added advantage of being able to break up strong winds, which can freeze to the core of a man quickly.
4.) Try to stay dry! If you are moving so fast that profuse sweat is soaking your body or if you find yourself falling into water or moist ground…. You will have a very deadly and serious problem on your hands if shelter, warmth or extra clothing cannot be obtained quickly.
5.) Water is highly needed during the winter and many soldiers neglect this since they do not develop the natural “thirst” mechanism that is common with hot weather. The body is loosing just as much moisture due to dry conditions and physical exertion as it does in hot weather. Dehydration will start to affect the body negatively and even leads to cold injuries faster. Drinking warm liquids restores body energy and provides moisture to the body however the effects of drinking VERY hot liquids actually serves to make the soldier feel very cold a lot quicker – try to drink warm but not scalding hot liquids. Also keep a little space in canteens and bladders to keep the water moving slightly to avoid freezing. Place the water next to the body inside the coat to keep it warm UNLESS you are already suffering a cold injury! Keeping water next to you while you are already cold causes your heat to leave your body quicker!
6.) Stay in shape! Making sure that your body is in good shape, means that your body will efficiently heat and resist the effects of the weather better than someone who is in poor condition. The muscles will circulate blood better, the heart will not work as hard, your body will be able to adjust to cold temperature shock and you will find yourself performing better overall.
7.) Lastly, your camouflage is just as important during this time of year. Invest the time/money in getting good winter camo. Conditions that are mostly snow allows a white camo pattern but make sure that if the surroundings have very little snow then you might want to avoid the white altogether and just use the predominant color you see in your surroundings. Darker cloths are still a lot harder to see even if they don’t match the surroundings totally – except in snow conditions. This should only be worn if the surroundings are more than 75% white in color.
To begin with one will naturally start with the most obvious of problems: correct clothing and staying warm. For the soldier operating in the winter months he/she must always realize that the extremities and the core body are the primary areas of concern. The feet and hands in particular must be kept warm such that frostbite and numbness do not sap the strength of the soldier while performing his duties. The choice of the proper footwear as well as hand wear makes a very large impact on the comfort and effectiveness of the soldier overall. Footwear should have good traction, be able to properly support the foot-ankle-leg if in rough terrain or a fall is sustained and also provide warmth via insulation. An often forgotten point that the soldier must also remember is that foot wear must provide the maximum amount of circulation for the feet so that the soldier avoids conditions like trench-foot and foot rot. Good insulation in the boot is necessary but should not be so much that it restricts movement of the foot or starts to restrict circulation. The soldier must have foot gear he can remove without the use of obscene amounts of energy in order to massage the feet to restore circulation and dry the feet out as well. The last point is that the footwear should be as water proof and resistant as possible. Although many a soldier has had to endure wet feet during winter – this condition is very dangerous and potentially life threatening if not dealt with properly and swiftly in the event that frigid winter water comes into contact with the soldiers feet.
Gloves are obviously a necessity that can not be overstated. This seems fairly obvious since the hands are the limbs with which the soldier performs most of his soldiering tasks with and depends upon for his very life and the life of his unit. Gloves must also hold a large amount of heat yet also not restrict circulation as well. Most people feel their feet and hands getting colder due to a combination of the temperature as well as the restriction they impose upon their extremities. The gloves should not be a burden to properly handling munitions, weapons, binoculars, food, maps and all the other various equipment and necessities that a soldier will have to use while operating in their designated AO. Although there is not a condition known as “trench hand” the hands must also be watched closely if they are exposed to cold winter water or temperatures that would cause them to be ineffective. If a condition like this occurs the best solution is to put the hands under one’s own armpits or the armpits of another soldier. This will protect the hands from the elements as well as transfer heat energy to the frozen limbs since the armpits are a known hot point on the human body.
Finally, the clothing one wears to protect the body core itself is no less important of course. The core sustains the rest of the body and if the core fails then the rest of our discussion is just academic. The body should always be dressed in layers that can be fairly easily removed or put back on without undue effort. The mistake many soldiers make is over dressing and hence over-insulating the body such that when physical activity is finally needed the soldier is literally physically exhausted due to the lack of movement, heat and the resultant freezing feeling when the sweat on the body acts to remove the much needed heat. This is especially true when the daytime temperatures are fairly moderate but then quickly plunge into very cold regimes for the night time. The sweating might not seem bad during these warm hours but many a soldiers quickly regrets a very long and uncomfortable and dangerous night spent trying not to sustain a hypothermic condition for the night. The soldier MUST bring extra warm clothing in his ruck-sack to put on during the night or store when not needed. The soldier must also remember the poncho liner AND poncho since these two combined can provide a very efficient wind-block and water barrier. You will regret the day you have forgotten your poncho during winter months the first time you experience freezing rain with no poncho- if you survive this experience unscathed!
In the end use common sense and ‘listen’ to your body. If you are feeling over-heated even during cold conditions try to open a couple of ‘vents in your clothing before removing items. Remember you probably will not feel how cold the environment is while moving since your body is generating and circulating heat. Make sure you can fight the coldness when you need to with other light clothing and dry warm socks. Remember to switch socks daily and keep the wet used socks INSIDE your clothing so that they can dry and warm up for the next change. One good trick is to hang them outside of the clothing to dry out during the cold months and then when dry wear them inside to warm up before using.
Finally, remember you are no-good if you are ineffective in extreme conditions so get used to operating in extreme conditions by conditioning yourself with walks and hikes and get used to your surroundings until you feel comfortable. In the end if you don’t prepare you will be the first to feel your suffering – but not the last!
Physical fitness is the ability to produce large levels of physical output and exertion with minimal difficulty to the individual when needed due to the situation or the task at hand. To be more specific and less formal, physical fitness is being in good shape so that when other soldiers and citizens in our society ask us to accomplish a mission we can easily do that and not add additional obstacles due to poor performance.
Now that we know what physical fitness is and why we are to maintain high levels for ourselves regardless of our ages, we can start to discuss how the citizen-soldier is to accomplish this from day to day. The first step in being physically fit is to 1) take responsibility for your own body and health and recognize that it is YOUR duty to be healthy. This not only helps the mission but also helps in many other areas of life that go much smoother when our bodies function properly. Taking responsibility for one’s own health means having the discipline to stop unhealthy eating habits and to know that no one can prepare you to be in good shape except yourself!
Discipline is one of the key components that drive us to always strive to be better than we are right now. Keep in mind that when we are aiming to be healthy this doesn’t mean that one must ONLY eat the healthiest of foods all the time. Variety in diet is a large factor in keeping fit. The second step in keeping in good shape is 2) identifying your current health level and making a goal or a plan to improve. Many people recognize that they can always get into better shape and have the discipline to do so but then quickly loose this advantage by setting goals that are unrealistic or are not going to work for them due to false perceptions or poor information. The best idea is to start slowly and with a little at a time. As these things become easier to do, continue to add more exercises or duration to the work out. Make sure you are pushing yourself but NOT overdoing it. This is also true about eating habits – too much too fast and you will stop due to discouragement or because you think weight/muscle tone should be changing FASTER than it is. Everyone body is different and the solution is different for every body as well
The workouts should always be making you a better soldier and pushing your limits however, you do not want to push yourself so far as to injure or discourage yourself due to the absolute abuse that you may be subjecting yourself to. The final step in being physically fit is 3) motivate yourself to stick with your exercise program and if need be ‘enlist’ the help of others to help motivate you to continue and improve. A workout that is boring and does not seem fun will eventually fail since you are not motivated to do it. Once you have these three basic steps you can start progressing to physical fitness and make yourself and your unit proud!