Heat Stroke: the Soldier’s Enemy

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 11 months ago

Haaretz has this:

A 17-year-old boy who died during tryouts for pilot training was apparently killed by heat stroke rather than dehydration, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

The commander of the Israel Air Force, Major General Elyezer Shkedy, has ordered an investigation into the death of Itai Sharon of Zichron Ya’akov, who died on Wednesday.

A debriefing revealed that between 6:30 and 8:00 A.M. Wednesday, the group of teens involved in the tryout went on a six-kilometer march carrying weights. The IDF’s chief medical officer, Brigadier General Hezi Levy, said that the heat stress factor did not rule out such activities under army regulations. At 8:30 A.M., the heat stress factor became borderline in terms of the regulations governing strenuous physical activity, so the group was assigned activities that they could do sitting down.

An hour after the march, Sharon’s friends saw him sitting in the sun. When they summoned him into the shade, they noticed that he was confused and apathetic. After they made the commanders aware of Sharon’s condition, he was sent for medical treatment. He was found to have a high fever, given a transfusion and transferred to Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva, where he lost consciousness and died.

Heat stroke, in which the body is unable to discharge heat built up during strenuous activity, is a known risk in very hot weather. A number of IDF soldiers have died of heat stroke over the years.

In my post “Israel’s Might Army: Plan and Keep the Balance,” I said:

In my post “Israeli Army in Disarray During War,� I cited a news report that:

Israel’s largest paper, Yediot Ahronot, quoted one soldier as saying thirsty troops threw chlorine tablets into filthy water in sheep and cow troughs. Another said his unit took canteens from dead guerrillas.

This is very telling.  I get word from my son in the Marines frequently concerning his training, what he is going through at the time, and how he feels.  It doesn’t bother me that the Israeli army was without food for a while.  I should not go too far with the details of my son’s training (this is considered a �no-no�).  But it is customary to go several days without sleep or food.  They must be capable of doing this while waging war and making battlefield decisions, since at times they will be doing exactly that while their lives are on the line.

And it may seem strange to lay hold of something as simple as water as a touchstone for the condition of the Israeli army, but I think it makes perfect sense.  An army that is without water is in serious … serious … trouble.  While I am certain that his superiors do an adequate job of training my son concerning the dangers of dehydration and overheating, I regularly (via phone) give my son a “safety brief� concerning these matters.

You must remember the facts concerning water and body heat.  The body can discharge heat in several ways: convection cooling, radiation cooling, conductive cooling and evaporative cooling.  Of these, evaporative cooling is the most significant.  When you sweat, the idea is that the water is then able to evaporate, taking with it the heat necessary to change phases (this is called the latent heat of vaporization).  This change of phase takes with it from the body just under 1000 BTUs/lbm of water, and without it a man on the battlefield is in danger of not only heat exhaustion, but heat stroke and even death.  I regularly lecture my son on ensuring that his “camelback� is full of water, and that he hydrates regularly.

Regarding heat stroke, if the core body temperature increases to around 105 degrees F and stays for any length of time, the proteins in the brain begin to change form, and permanent brain damage occurs.  Of course, exhaustion, fatigue, medical problems and brain damage are not good things on the battlefield.  Finally, in conditions of dehydration, the blood thickens and less of it is sent to the brain.  This causes a loss of mental and cognitive capabilities.  Again, not a good thing on the battlefield.

The lack of basic provisions such as water (the most basic of all) shows that Israel was not — and is not — on a war footing.

The man on the battlefield who doesn’t understand the significance of water, exposure to radiant heat gain, and internal heat generation due to work has been poorly trained.  And the country that sends its boys into harm’s way without the provisions necessary to do the job has done something profoundly immoral.


You are currently reading "Heat Stroke: the Soldier’s Enemy", entry #706 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) War & Warfare and was published August 27th, 2006 by Herschel Smith.

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