Study: Fort Drum Avoids Cold-Weather Injuries Better than Warmer Posts

Fort Drum entrance sign

FORT DRUM -- The north country may face more winter cold than most military installations, but the post's soldiers appear to be avoiding cold-weather injuries as well as military personnel in warmer locales across the country.

Among the installations with a higher number of incidents than Fort Drum during the study period were Vilseck, Germany, Fort Wainwright, Alaska, Fort Benning, Ga., Parris Island, S.C., Portsmouth, Va., and Fort Bragg, N.C.

The post lined up almost identically with Camp Pendleton and San Diego, Calif., and Camp LeJeune, N.C.

These numbers came despite the Watertown area's reputation of having the lowest recorded temperatures in America multiple times in the last few years. Most recently, the city held the designation when it hit minus 37 degrees Fahrenheit on Feb. 14. The city earned the designation on Feb. 16, 2015, when it reached 36 below zero.

Staff Sgt. Jennifer A. Sosa said the lowest temperatures she had been around during work was about minus 38 degrees. She said special jackets and gloves are available for the colder days.

The New York City native said it was a big shock coming to the post from her previous duty station, Fort Rucker, Ala.

"Forget it," she said. "It was freezing."

The cold-weather study was published in the Defense Health Agency's Medical Surveillance Monthly Report for October.

Michael A. Tulley, the 10th Mountain Division's Tactical Safety Officer, said soldiers and unit leaders are regularly instructed about cold-weather risks.

"Cold can kill. If a soldier is not wearing the proper equipment, they could lose hands, ears, noses, all the way to death," he said. "The reason Fort Drum does so well is commanders take it seriously. Nobody wants to lose a soldier because it's cold. It's unacceptable to the Army, unacceptable to the soldier's parents, that's unacceptable to the United States."

Educational outreach includes training sessions about safe driving and cold weather protection for family members and children.

For soldiers on post, the low temperatures of the north country are well known even before they arrive in the area.

Pfc. Hasten Cupit, a northern California native going into his second winter on post, said he initially asked his recruiter for an installation somewhere other than New York because of the cold.

"When I heard units in Alaska come here for winter training, I was shocked," he said.

With a winter under his belt, he said it was not as bad as initially expected. Pfc. Cupit said he and other soldiers are regularly briefed on what to wear and how long they can be outside during extremely cold conditions.

"The cold doesn't come at once," he said. "It's not a big culture shock. You're used to it when the temperatures hit negative 30."

He noticed his embrace of the cold when he returned to California last December. As his mother bundled up in a jacket and full pants, he was out in shorts and a shirt.

"My mom hates the cold," he said.

Some of the study's other findings:

--From July 2011 to June 2016, active-duty Army units had 1,336 cold-weather injuries, far surpassing levels seen by the Marines (447), Air Force (293) or Navy (152).

--Men were more than four times more likely than women to sustain a cold-weather injury.

--Frostbite was the most common cold-weather injury, followed by immersion injury and hypothermia.

--Enlisted soldiers had higher rates of injury than officers.

--Infantry, artillery and combat engineers had the highest rates of injury among military occupations.

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