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Troops Endure Iraq Heat
Associated Press | August 08, 2006RAMADI, Iraq - After a long day searching homes in suffocating Iraqi heat, Lance Cpl. Mike Young saw a most surprising source of relief - a sprawling Wal-Mart had appeared in the distance.
"No joke - looking through the haze I thought I saw a Wal-Mart. I said to myself, 'I bet they got some cold water in there,'" Young said, recalling a mission last year in a rural area west of Baghdad.
He contemplated running over to fetch water for fellow Marines who were "staggering like dead men." Three of them had collapsed in the heat.
Young soon stirred from his heat-induced hallucination and returned to the struggle of enduring summertime in Iraq.
Daytime temperatures in the Iraqi summer usually range from a low of about 105 degrees Fahrenheit to about 125. Though most bases have added air conditioning, grunts must still venture out to man their posts or patrol steaming streets under an unrelenting sun.
"It's been hotter and hotter than I ever thought I'd be in my life," said Cpl. Eduardo Warren, 20, of Turner, Maine, sweating even as he left for a night mission. "We still get it done."
Besides making conditions miserable for troops, the heat also changes the war itself. Marines in some areas say they patrol less during the hottest hours because fewer insurgents also venture out, creating a siesta cease-fire. But temperatures at night can hover over 100 degrees.
"I feel like I'm in someone's mouth," said Navy medic Kyle Gribi, 22, of Santa Cruz, Calif., as he patrolled beside Iraqi soldiers on the humid riverbanks of the Jazeera area in western Iraq.
Though the sun had set, Gribi sweated through his uniform as he trudged down fields and jumped over canals.
For infantrymen, the sweat rarely stops flowing in the summer, leaving many with heat rash. Troops complain that they sweat through their clothing, their wallets, and even their boots. Some remember awful mornings where they awake with polyester panchos stuck to their bodies.
In some outposts where washing machines are not available, troops hang their soaked uniforms in the sun - leaving them stiff and marked with large salt stains from dried sweat. Some find clumps of salt inside their pockets.
On sprawling logistics bases, support troops in offices are mostly immune to the heat. "Hey, it's only 106 today," cheerfully said one Marine as he walked to a dining hall on the Taqqadum air base in western Iraq.
Though most U.S. infantrymen now have air conditioned Humvees, the insurgent threat has also added to the array of clothing they must wear. Many Marines are now required to wear flame retardant suits, gloves and goggles to protect themselves from roadside bombs.
To some troops, the outside danger is less grating than the temperature.
"Everything else doesn't bother me. It's the heat threat gets to me," said Lance Cpl. John Ursery of Raleigh, N.C., as he stood in the shade of a sand barrier in Ramadi, one of Iraq's most dangerous cities.
Some Marines claim to have seen the rubber on their Humvee tires start to melt. But the heat also helps create barracks lore that stretches the boundaries of reality.
Warren, the Marine in Ramadi, claimed he'd once seen the temperature hit 150 degrees in Karma, a city just west of Baghdad. He also purported to have been in a portable toilet that reached 187 degrees.
According to the NASA Web site, the hottest temperature ever recorded was 136 degrees in Libya in 1922.
Regardless, many troops voiced similar complaints - including many directed toward common portable toilets that trap in heat.
"You can tell people how it is, but they don't experience it until you go into one of those," warned Young, a native of Princeton, Ky., now serving his second tour in Iraq in Ramadi.
Troops have learned to combat the heat with an array of tactics. On the Habaniyah military base, commanders made new Marines patrol around their base in full gear to acclimate themselves.
Many Marines have their own solutions, such as drinking as much water as possible the day before big missions or pre-freezing water bottles before patrols. Others said simple measures such as idle chatter to divert your attention helps - along with frequent changes of clothing.
"Changing your socks is important. Change them everyday whether you're on patrols or not," Warren said.
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