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article imageUS military has a climate crisis problem — heat-related injuries

By Karen Graham     Jul 25, 2019 in Environment
At least 17 military personnel have died of heat exposure during training exercises at U.S. military bases since 2008, according to the Pentagon. Fort Benning, Georgia reports 1,500 heat-related injuries in the last five years.
And the list goes on. In 2008, 1,766 cases of heatstroke or heat exhaustion were diagnosed among active-duty service members, according to military data. By 2018, that figure had climbed to 2,792, an increase of almost 60 percent over the decade, according to NBC News.
Even though all branches of the military saw an increase in heat-related illnesses, the Marine Corps had the highest number of heat-related injuries, nearly doubling between 2008 and 2018.
According to the Defense Health Agency, 40 percent of the heat-related illnesses and deaths since 2014 occurred at five locations: Fort Benning in Georgia, Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Campbell in Kentucky, Fort Polk in Louisiana and Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps installation in North Carolina. Two of the others in the top 10 are in South Carolina.
The Pentagon: The headquarters of the US military.
The Pentagon: The headquarters of the US military.
SAUL LOEB, AFP
All this leaves the Pentagon with a very big problem: how to develop a heat-prevention strategy and educate officers about it while preparing troops to fight in hot places like the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa.
“If you want to be prepared for a fight in the heat, you have to train in the heat under the same conditions you’ll encounter,” Augusto Giacoman, a former Army captain, told InsideClimate News. Added to this is the "warrior attitude" instilled into soldiers that make them push past their limits.
“It doesn’t matter that you’re about ready to collapse, you don’t let on,” Joy Craig, a retired Marine Corps warrant officer and drill instructor, said. “You push through it.”
Health, U.S. security, and preparedness
Then there is climate change. "No one is going to talk about climate change because of the political aspect and who is in the White House," says a military official who chose to stay anonymous, according to the New York Daily News. He added, “It’s a career killer to talk about something in opposition to that of the administration.”
US  Italian and Afghan troops prepare shells during a February 2019 training exercise in Afghanistan...
US, Italian and Afghan troops prepare shells during a February 2019 training exercise in Afghanistan's Herat province
HOSHANG HASHIMI, AFP/File
However, Maj. Meghan Galer, a Fort Benning doctor, calls climate change "an obvious statement of fact," and helped create an Army "heat center" for medics and wrote a white paper about the growing threat of climate change.
Major Galer and her team are also working on a system that monitors vital signs and warns service members if heat stress is imminent. In the meantime, the military is working on developing new materials for uniforms, along with different types of cooling vests, however, they could still be years away.
InsideClimate News and NBC News spent nine months investigating heat deaths and heat-related illnesses in the military and the Pentagon’s uneven efforts to safeguard service members. Basically, the investigation found that despite acknowledging the risks of climate change, the military continues to wrestle with finding a sustainable, comprehensive strategy for how to train in sweltering conditions.
The military's report, while heavily redacted, did show there was "evidence of disregard for heat safety rules that led to the deaths of troops." 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."
More about Us military, Climate crisis, heatrelated injuries, Deaths, Training
 
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