Winds of change coming to Iraq

9 Oct 2004 | Lance Cpl. Travis J. Kaemmerer 1st Marine Logistics Group

Cooler days are approaching the sandy horizon of the Iraqi desert.

Soon, the thermometer will rest between 75 and 90 degrees during the day, and can plummet to a bone-chilling 30 degrees at night, a drastic change from the 120-plus-degree days of the summer months.

"During the winter months, it's (the weather) easier on personnel. They (the Marines) can get more work done," said Cpl. Chris L. Reighard, a weather observer for the 1st Force Service Support Group.

Marines here worked shortened hours outside due to the constant threat of dehydration and heat exhaustion during the summer, said the 23-year-old.

Simple projects seemed to drag on during the sweltering days of the peak summer months.

"The heat alone isn't that bad. It's the wind's hairdryer effect that kills you," said Pfc. Richard W. Oates, a Fayetteville, N.C., native, who works outside all day doing base security with 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment. "You start sweating and the wind blows sand all over you. It sits on your back, and after a while it feels like little red ants biting you."

During the winter months, the extreme heat and the "wind's hairdryer effect" is replaced by severe weather of a different form - rain and sandstorms. These storms are caused when cooler air from cold fronts sweep across the area, said Reighard.

The large levels of dust and mud created by these storms can reduce visibility and clog vehicle engines, which in turn can halt or slow down operations.

When a thunderstorm immediately follows a sandstorm, the inconveniences begin to mount, said Reighard.

"If you get a good dust storm before the thunderstorm, everything you have is covered by dust, and before you can clean it off, it starts down pouring rain that turns into mud," said Reighard.

Marines receive cold-weather clothing such as caps, thermal underwear, military fleeces, gloves and ski masks to help them keep warm and help protect from windburn. Ballistic goggles are also provided, which not only protect the eyes from the sand and sun, but can protect vision during an explosive blast, said Cpl. Steven P. Marruffo, an embarkation specialist with 1st FSSG.

Marines are issued these items before leaving for Iraq, but if a Marine was deployed quickly and not able to get what they need, they can go to their supply issue point here and sign the items out, the Pecos, Texas, native said.

"(Ordering supplies) really depends on the need for the item but if there are things (Marines) didn't get, we can definitely have it sent here," Marruffo said.

Some Marines may feel they don't need to wear extra layers during the winter months since they're in the desert - a common misconception, said Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Joseph Zweifel, a corpsman with Headquarters and Service Battalion here.

"It gets colder at night than they think and that's how they get sick," said the 21-year-old Brookings, Ore., native.

Marines also need to continue to hydrate as they would in the summer months, said Navy Seaman Tony Romero, a corpsman with H&S Bn. Proper hydration allows the body to better regulate its temperature, keeping Marines cool during the day and warmer at night.

Along with hydration and wearing their cold weather clothing, Marines need to keep up with proper hygiene habits to prevent the spread of diseases and viruses that come with cold weather, Romero said.

Romero recommends Marines wash their hands as frequently as possible. When warm water and soap is not available, anti-bacterial hand lotion is a good alternative.

"There will be a lot more germs going around, and that means a lot more people are going to have cold symptoms and upper respiratory infections," the 22-year-old Houston native said. "These (viruses) are really easy to pass along."

While the cooler weather should make life here somewhat more bearable for Marines, the dropping temperatures will also give a much needed break to the hundreds of military vehicles used daily.

Marines with the 1st FSSG use vehicles such as seven-ton trucks and High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicles, or "Humvees," and log thousands of miles on their odometers convoying supplies across Iraq's roads. 

Scorching temperatures take their toll on these vehicles, increasing the need for maintenance. Fluids, such as engine coolant and oil, needed to be constantly checked during the summer months because they deteriorate much faster than usual. But as the temperature begins to drop, so will the need for high-level repairs, said Lance Cpl. Brandon H. Short, a wrecker operator with 1st FSSG.

"The sand will eventually cause rubber parts of the engine to tear, but the (winter's) heat won't weaken the rubber as much as it did in the summer," the 24-year-old Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., native said.

Generators, which are used as a primary source of electricity here, were another area of concern during the summer months. Overuse caused inefficient oil consumption and seal damage, explained Pfc. Gregory Dutcher, 19, a generator mechanic with base operations here.

"We can do the basic repairs, but we don't have the resources to overhaul all the engines," the Mayfield, N.Y., native said. 

With only four Marines on call to maintain 120 generators, those with a basic knowledge of diesel engines are encouraged to perform preventative maintenance, said Staff Sgt. William E. Luna, base operations utilities chief. This will help keep the generators running smoothly when they transition from running air conditioning units to running heaters.

"Our motto is 'Mission first, Marine always,'" the Hialeah, Fla., native said.  "That means if a call deals with the mission out here, it takes top priority. If it deals with what the Marines need, it's the second highest priority."

Colored flags are displayed atop a tower about 50-feet above the sand here several times daily, reflecting different ranges of the heat index, explained Los Angeles native, Sgt. Valo S. Gonzalez, a weather observer with Marine Wing Support Squadron 373.

Green, yellow, red and black flags, from coolest to warmest, are flown to warn Marines of how much physical activity is suggested, said Lance Cpl. Terry W. Soto, a weather observer with MWSS 373.

Marines who work outside most of the day, such as gate guards and engineers, as well as anyone spending mere minutes outside, will welcome the change in weather, said 1st Sgt. Laura L. Brown, Service Company first sergeant, H&S Bn.

"The change in temperature will be to our advantage," the 38-year-old San Antonio native said. "Now that it's cooling off, devil dogs outside won't be so miserable."

In the cooler months, Marines will be able to accomplish more, as long as they take some simple precautions to keep themselves, and their equipment, healthy.
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1st Marine Logistics Group