Coping with Heat in Iraq

Staff Sgt. Mario Pitts from Florida says no one back home has any idea what real heat is until they experience the dry summer of Iraq. His buddy, Sgt. Alexander Rivera, an army medic, agrees.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I was checking the world temperature index on the wires today, and I noticed that today's high in Baghdad is supposed to be 102 degrees. It's not even officially summer yet there. So we wanted to find out how soldiers there are coping with this heat. Army medic Alexander Rivera joins us now. Welcome to the program.

Sergeant ALEXANDER RIVERA (U.S. Soldier, Iraq): How are you doing, ma'am?

BRAND: Fine. So 102 today?

Sgt. RIVERA: Right now, I'm in the north part of Iraq, and right here right now, it's 105, actually.

BRAND: 105. You have to wear not only a uniform, but you have to wear a lot of body armor, right?

Sgt. RIVERA: That's correct. Most soldiers do. You can add 10 degrees with that.

BRAND: So 115.

Sgt. RIVERA: That's correct.

BRAND: Oh, my gosh. So how quickly can you suffer from heat exhaustion?

Sgt. RIVERA: Well, it depends on different factors. Right now, if you're in bad shape, if you're consuming caffeine drinks, like any sodas, coffee, how much the soldier hydrates, type of food, also, too. In this type of heat, it could take just a few hours for a person to dehydrate.

BRAND: And how do you prevent that when you go out in the field?

Sgt. RIVERA: By my experience, all the convoy commanders and mission commanders make sure that all their soldiers carry a cooler full of ice with water and drinks that have a high level of electrolytes, like Gatorade and different brands like that. We're watching for symptoms of dehydration, like if anybody of yours starts complaining about headaches, dizziness, nausea.

BRAND: So I understand you're with a sergeant who's a new arrival?

Sgt. RIVERA: Yes, he just arrived a few weeks ago.

BRAND: Can you pass the phone for a second?

Sgt. RIVERA: Yes, no problem.

Staff Sergeant MARIO PITTS (U.S. Army Medic, Iraq): Hello?

BRAND: Hi. So this is Staff Sergeant Mario Pitts. So where did you come from?

Sf. Sgt. PITTS: I came from Florida.

BRAND: OK. So it can get a little warm there in the summertime.

Sf. Sgt. PITTS: Yes.

BRAND: What did you think when you first arrived in Iraq?

Sf. Sgt. PITTS: I was just thinking, Florida, you know, it gets in the 90s, but you have the humidity. But when you come to Iraq, the heat here is dry heat, and it feels like it's just burning right through you. It was pretty hot.

BRAND: Yeah. So what did you think, that you'd walked into the gates of hell or something?

Sf. Sgt. PITTS: I thought I walked straight into the sun.

BRAND: Into the sun? So are you afraid of getting some kind of heat exhaustion or anything like that when you're out on a mission?

Sf. Sgt. PITTS: Like Sergeant Rivera said, all of us have hydration systems, and pretty much anywhere you go in Iraq, they have water, literally, everywhere.

BRAND: Do they train you for that when you're training in the States?

Sf. Sgt. PITTS: Actually, they do. They make you wear your body armor more and your Kevlar and try to give you weapons just so you get acclimated to all the weight that you're going to be carrying around. They also try, when you go through Kuwait, they try to hang you there for a couple days and get used to the heat before they send you out to your actual areas.

BRAND: So any tips that you're going to take back when you get back to Florida?

Sf. Sgt. PITTS: Oh, yeah. If you think you're drinking enough water, you're not because the heat, it'll sneak up on you real quick, and you'll get dehydrated. And I'll tell them, you guys don't know what hot is because there are other places in this world where it's much hotter.

BRAND: OK, well, Staff Sergeant Mario Pitts, thank you very much.

Sf. Sgt. PITTS: You're welcome.

BRAND: And we spoke earlier with U.S. Army medic, Sergeant Alexander Rivera. Both of them in northern Iraq.

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