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Soldiers endure nature's miseries: heat, lack of water, bugs

NEAR NAJAF, Iraq—The temperature reached 112 in Baghdad on Saturday and the high 90s elsewhere in Iraq, leading U.S. soldiers to strip off their protective bio-chemical suits to seek relief from the withering heat.

Supply tanks filled with water wended their way to the troops, who have been ordered to drink 2 gallons a day to stave off heat exhaustion. Not everyone was so lucky; two soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division collapsed from dehydration, the first stage of heat-related illness.

"We are not getting enough water," said Pfc. Josh Small, 20, of Amarillo, Texas, who lay in an Army field hospital while fluids were pumped into his arm intravenously. Small said he was "only getting a quart and a half of water a day."

Small was flown out to the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital near Najaf after he passed out from dehydration. Next to him was a fellow combat soldier too weak to talk.

"It's going to get a lot hotter, and we expect to see more of this," said Capt. Molly Shifferd of San Diego, a MASH nurse treating dehydrated soldiers.

Pests also plague the troops. The 82nd Airborne Division is near Sumawah, a marshy area that breeds flies, gnats and mosquitoes. The vermin are flying into soldiers' ears and mouths and onto their food, forcing at least one Marine to spit out every second bite.

High temperatures take a toll on soldiers in combat, forcing a slower pace to military operations. Beyond dehydration and heat-related illness, extreme heat can slow the body's responses, cause hallucinations and lead to fainting.

Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, commander of the Army's V Corps, the extensive combat support system in Iraq, issued an order Friday saying all commanders are responsible for making sure that their companies or battalions drink enough water every day.

Although authorities said that many troops are getting the water they need, some were having shortages because the troops are moving too fast for support to keep up. Sometimes it's too dangerous for support troops to get where combat troops are fighting. Sometimes connections are missed when support soldiers with water and fighters who need it don't show up at the same place at the same time.

"These water shortages on the front lines are isolated incidents. There's plenty of water," assured Maj. David Allen, whose job is to supply water to support units who, in turn, must get it to the fighting soldiers.

"The problem is not getting water," one artillery soldier for the 82nd Airborne, which is close to supply lines, said Saturday. "It's just that it's steaming hot when you drink it. It's like drinking boiling hot water sometimes. Never very refreshing."

At the newly captured Baghdad International Airport, bottled water is in short supply, and soldiers have turned to chlorinated water, which some find hard to choke down.

Nature's misery has no end in Iraq: The forecast is for continued triple-digit temperatures, and a sandstorm is expected in southern Iraq and Kuwait on Monday.


(Laughlin, of The Miami Herald, is with the 212th MASH. Chatterjee reported from Washington. Also contributing were Knight Ridder Newspaper correspondents Andrea Gerlin of The Philadelphia Inquirer with the 1st Marine Division; Mark Johnson of The Charlotte Observer with the 82nd Airborne; Tom Lasseter of the Lexington Herald Leader with the 101st Airborne; and Drew Brown with the 3rd Infantry Division.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.