2011-07-07 / Opinions

If I’m not wearing hot military gear, I shouldn’t complain about the heat

By KIP BURKE
news editor

When it gets as hot and miserably humid as it’s been this week, it reminds me of when I really and truly found out what hot and miserable can mean.

It was 30 years ago, but I still measure misery by it.

I was a crewman aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, a new ship with a new crew, and we’d been training in fire fighting and damage control for months. We had to prove to the Navy that both the 3,500-man crew and the brand-new ship could fight and survive. The Fleet Training Group, based at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, would spend six weeks putting us though our paces in the tropical waters off Cuba.

It was called Refresher Training, but it was anything but refreshing. It seemed like regularly scheduled torture sessions, and it set my personal standard for the heat-induced misery that comes from wearing military gear doing a military job.

The training put us through various drills at battle stations, simulating fires, flooding, missile damage, nuclear attack, and those drills occupied hours every day we were there. We spent weeks drilling until we responded quickly and correctly, with men in every damage control section around the giant ship buttoned down at our General Quarters stations.

Now, this is in the tropics. When we drilled, the first thing the Navy did was to turn off the ship’s air conditioning and ventilation. All doors and hatches closed tight, turning each space in which we drilled into a steel-walled sauna. Sailors all had to wear long sleeves and buttoned collars, plus fire fighting clothing and gear.

If this wasn’t bad enough, some of us were picked for special teams that wore the dreaded CBR protective gear.

The Navy’s 1970’s era CBR protective suits were heavy rubberized canvas, designed to protect us from chemical, biological, or radiological threats. While I was encased headto toe in one, pretending to fight fires, I was pretty sure I’d die of heat prostration if a real chemical attack lasted more than an hour or so. No body heat or sweat escaped the suit, and no air got in, and we were stuck in the suits until the drill was successful. If hell has costumes, this is one of them.

That was my introduction to unspeakable heat, but we met often, especially in the Middle East during the Gulf War.

Now though, when summer hits like it did this week, it doesn’t bother me as much. I have the perspective of having to face hot, humid weather on a military mission that has me encased in protective gear and carrying a load of equipment. In comparison, then, this ain’t that hot, and I have no right to whine.

In the civilian world, we can generally wear cool clothes and avoid heavy work when it’s hottest. We stay inside if we can, and dash from air-conditioned car to cool indoors. We can even get half nekkid and sit on the beach with a cool breeze and a cooler drink.

But I can’t forget that, right now, there are thousands of soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen who are encased in heavy uniforms and body armor, wearing and carrying heavy gear through the searing 130-degree heat of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Most don’t see a shower or clean clothes for days. Every day they’re reaching levels of discomfort we can barely imagine, but they keep going and keep taking the heat, all for us.

So, this summer, as you feel the hot sun on your bare skin, or you feel the summer breeze fluff your t-shirt and shorts, don’t dare complain. This, folks, is not hot.

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