As most of us know, the weather conditions change drastically throughout Afghanistan in the summer, and winter is no different.
We, as leaders, must remain cognizant of the weather conditions and identify any significant factors that will complicate our mission. Leaders at all levels can identify factors that will leave Soldiers more vulnerable to cold weather injuries. We should recognize and pay special attention to any of the following:
• Soldiers and Civilians with little experience or training in cold weather
• Personnel with previous cold injuries or other substantial injuries
• Individuals who use tobacco products/nicotine
• Any person who skips meals or has poor nutritional habits
• Anyone with a low level of physical activity
• Someone experiencing fatigue or sleep deprivation
• Anyone suffering from recent cold weather injuries or who was previously injured
• Anyone drinking little or no water
As senior leaders, junior leaders and others will look to us for sound guidance and advice. Therefore, we should teach them how to assess the hazards of living and working in cold environments. Some examples of questions we could ask to help prepare for the approaching cold weather include:
• Will Soldiers have adequate shelter and clothing during the mission?
• Is clothing clean, unstained and serviceable?
• Are tents, stoves or other approved heating sources available during the operation?
• How often will meals be consumed?
• Will meals be warm?
• Has the temperature and weather been reviewed for the operation?
• Will Soldiers be working with bare metal or fuel?
• Is the environment wet?
• Will Soldiers use the buddy systems to prevent cold weather injuries?
Once we’ve identified and assessed the cold weather hazards, we can develop controls to mitigate the severity. The more time a unit spends fighting the terrain and its elements, the less time it has to focus on the enemy. Units must take into consideration the effects of arctic weather and its impact on their personnel and equipment. Proper risk management gives the unit conducting arctic operations an excellent means of identifying and mitigating risks. Leaders must use this tool to be successful in any operation, and the arctic environment will usually render a high on the risk assessment matrix. Prior planning for movement over frozen or icy terrain must not be taken lightly. Units must have recovery assets along with a solid medevac plan.
The majority of the movement conducted in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan comes in the form of air insertion. After completing the insertion, the rest will be done on foot, with Soldiers carrying anywhere from 80 to 100 pounds of equipment. During Operation Anaconda, infantry platoons were not acclimated to the high altitude where they were inserted. As a result, some Soldiers experienced shortness of breath, dizziness, decreased physical performance and vomiting. This can increase non-battle casualties, decreasing the effectiveness of weapon systems and creating problems for unit mobility. Soldiers need to ensure they consume the proper amount of water so they don’t become dehydrated and eat at least three cold weather rations. These rations double the calorie intake from a normal Meal, Ready to Eat.
This winter, ensure your Soldiers are prepared. Understanding cold weather and the potential for injuries are key components to overcoming austere conditions and accomplishing the mission.
Original Article by CORY KROLL, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.