Bone Dry in the Mojave Desert

      While serving as a reconnaissance squad leader in the infantry, my unit deployed to the National Training Center (NTC) in the Mojave Desert in California. We went to supplement the Opposing Forces (OPFOR) while they helped to prepare the Georgia National Guard for a mission over in Iraq during the Gulf War. My squad had the mission of infiltrating on foot to set up an Observation Post (OP) and call for artillery against the "enemy" during the next day's battle. We started our trek early in the evening and worked our way from one terrain feature to the next in hopes of avoiding the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles' infrared sights. Unfortunately the "enemy" found the same terrain features quite desirable too. They already had an OP set up on the hills we had selected to mask our movement. They opened up on us with a .50 cal. and we beat feet back where we came from. Now we had to wait for them to pull out before we could pass - there just wasn't any other way around.
     The Georgia Guard pulled their OP's back just before sunrise. There was no way I was going to get my squad across the middle of the desert unnoticed so I did what I had to do to get the mission accomplished. I picked one man and headed out, leaving my second in command in charge of the rest of the squad. As we approached the middle of what was probably a four kilometer wide valley we were fired on by our own forces (what knuckle-heads!). After finally convincing them to stop shooting at us - that we were on their side - we continued. The sun and heat were kickin'! When we got to the other side of the valley and inventoried our water we realized that we had consumed about a gallon each while crossing and that all the extra water was in rucksacks back at our rally point with the squad. Between the two of us we had remaining only a half quart! Oops!
      Realizing we would never make it to our objective I radioed higher for instructions and to request an emergency water resupply. I was already starting to feel the effects of heat exhaustion. There never seemed to be a time when I didn't feel thirsty. I was feeling weak and my limbs started to tingle. I knew I had to find shelter quick. Higher said to hold up and wait out the battle - no resupply until the mission was over so my buddy and I found a nice little ravine in the side of a hill and built a double-roofed poncho shelter. We stretched one poncho over the ravine using rocks under the corners to keep the poncho up off the ground to allow air to flow underneath. We used more rocks to hold the poncho down to the first rocks and placed another poncho over the first. The rocks holding the first poncho in place made a space between the two ponchos and acted to slow the heating effects of the sun by stopping radiation and conduction. The last poncho was held in place by more rocks. We stretched out beneath the shelter and loosened our clothing to cool off (never do that while exposed to the sun). At this point I was getting really bad. I had stopped sweating! This is very dangerous - it is one of the symptoms of an impending heat stroke! I was really worried so I told my buddy that if I went into fits or just unconscious to call in a Medevac. I was truly blessed that day because I held out until the recovery vehicle came and picked me up but the position I was in was very grave. It was life threatening.
     Always carry water. Always carry enough for the task to be performed. Drink constantly - conserve sweat NOT water. It does absolutely no good to have water in your canteen or bottle. It needs to be in your body. When you start to feel the symptoms of any level of heat injury, don't ignore them. Do something and do it quickly.

-BK Fox

 


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