FOB IRONHORSE, Iraq — For soldiers in Iraq, where summertime temperatures are 110 in the shade — if you can find any — the biggest enemy may be the heat.
And while the weapon of choice to fight that enemy is air conditioning, leaders are making sure their troops are taking extra steps to avoid overheating.
At Forward Operating Base Ironhorse, soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team spend as little time as possible in the unrelenting sun, which can push the thermometer to 130 degrees in August.
Those manning guard towers and base gates work outside for four hours, then get eight hours in an area where they can cool down, said 1st Lt. Sharron Turnage, the brigade’s medical operations officer. Many of the outside areas also have canopies or modified carports to provide shade.
Other soldiers who must work outdoors complete their jobs in the evening, when temperatures are more bearable (in the 90s), she said.
Leaders constantly warn their soldiers to stay hydrated and watch for symptoms of dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke, Turnage said.
The measures seem to be working.
Since the 1st Cav’s deployment started in January, only eight people from 1st Brigade Combat Team — which includes soldiers, Iraqi National Guard members and KBR workers — have been treated for heat injuries, Turnage said. All were minor cases of dehydration with only one requiring intravenous fluids.
At FOB Ironhorse, soldiers live in buildings that were formerly offices and apartments. The rooms vary in size from one-man rooms to open bays that sleep six to eight people. All have air conditioning, said Capt. Ted Kaiser, base mayor.
The base also has a pool for physical training that the soldiers use in the early morning, evenings or occasionally during the day to cool down, Kaiser said.
Soldiers who conduct patrols outside the gate in full battle gear, including body armor, don’t have many options when it comes to keeping cool.
Some of the up-armored Humvees have air conditioning, while other Humvees that have modified armor have mounted air conditioners to keep passengers cool, Kaiser said. Armored personnel carriers and tanks do not.
“I make sure I have plenty of water with me, and I bring a cooler with ice,” said Sgt. John Cox, a gunner.
KBR also provides bags of ice to the soldiers.
“If I get too hot, I just dump water on myself,” Cox said.
That seems to be a common practice.
“If I have to spend a lot of time outside, I pour water on my head to keep cool,” said Sgt. Lori Luster, a supply sergeant from the brigade. Luster also uses a neck cooler, an item that works much like an ice pack and stays cold for a couple of hours.
Luster said she also drinks Gatorade and about three 1.5-liter bottles of water a day.
While the soldiers appear to be beating the heat, the base’s generators aren’t faring as well. Three of the 16 generators that provide all of the base’s power supply were down on Thursday, according to Kaiser.
The generators are paired up and run in 12-hour shifts so that they won’t overheat. Some of the generators are cooled by running water over their radiators, but the water flow to the base and surrounding neighborhoods had been cut, Kaiser said.
“When the water is running, these generators are at 100 percent power,” he said. When the generators aren’t cooled properly, output can drop to 60 percent.
Additionally, only night shift workers are allowed to run air conditioning in their rooms during the day to limit power usage, Kaiser said.
Other generators and large air-conditioning units that are keeping the base’s communications network up will have a new protection from the heat in a matter of days. Contractors are building shelters that consist of two layers of metal sandwiching a layer of insulated Styrofoam to keep the heat off the units, Kaiser said.
“Heat is our biggest enemy out here,” Kaiser said. “Keeping up with it is a daily fight.”