In World War I, disease claimed the life of one Soldier for every two felled by combat. In the South Pacific theater in World War II, one-third of the Soldiers contracted malaria or some other disease, taking more Soldiers than the enemy did by gunfire.
One of the greatest threats to a Soldier downrange – besides the enemy – is sanitation.
Soldiers with the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade buckled down for a 40-hour field sanitation certification class that began June 22 to learn how to protect themselves and their battle buddies against diseases in field environments.
Field sanitation is a preventative measure to keep Soldiers downrange as safe as possible, said Spc. Joshua Mullin, a preventative medicine specialist and environmental health technician with the Medical Department Activity at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital.
For Soldiers in the field, infections of all sorts can affect troops who have limited ability to maintain a clean environment. For example, thirst can lead to Soldiers inadvertently drinking contaminated water, which can cause dysentery. An inability to clean oneself properly or stay dry can lead to various fungus-based diseases.
The class educated Soldiers on what to look for in the field that may compromise the health of the troops and offered ways to avoid problems.
“This training is important to make sure we take those preventative measures, so our Soldiers can get in the fight and stay in the fight,” said Sgt. Eric E. Blohm, the medical aid station NCOIC for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 159th CAB.
Mullin said field sanitation teams are another level of preventative medicine, and they’re critical because there are so few environmental health technicians who deploy with units.
“There may only be two [environmental health technicians], sometimes even only one per brigade,” Mullin said. “Downrange, we’re doing a lot of traveling between [forward operating bases]. What this allows is, at a company level or battalion level, you have a couple of these guys who are trained to do some of what we do. [Because of this training], you have another set of eyes there [where] they’re doing food sanitation surveys and pest surveys. They’re looking at water quality [and] air quality.”
When the Army first arrives in a new area, the living is very primitive. It takes some time to build up command outposts and forward operating bases.
Mullin said field sanitation specialists can provide insight on how many latrines to build or what type of latrine or garbage disposal to use, depending on the tactical situation.
The field sanitation specialist’s job is secondary to their primary Army function. They should, however, be equipped enough to be ready to make recommendations to the commander regarding potential dangers tha a threat to the health of Soldiers.
“That’s what our role is in [preventative medicine] in general, to make recommendations to the commanders, to advise them of the situation,” Mullin said.
The consideration due is not to be taken lightly, if the command wants the mission to be successful.
Non-combat injuries and illnesses undoubtedly have a significant adverse impact on military operations.
Disease and non-combat injuries resulted in more hospitalizations and lost person-days than total combat casualties in every war from the American Revolution through the Gulf War combined, according to a 2005 article in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
Mullin said approximately half of Soldiers downrange are going to lose some time on a mission due to a disease or a non-battle injury.
“That’s what we’re seeking to prevent. Whether it be pests coming in and spreading disease, we’re not taking proper protection for ticks, heat injuries, or dysentery from the water,” Mullin said.
“Diarrhea can spread though the camp like that,” he said, snapping his fingers. “All of a sudden, you have a company that’s down for a number of days, which could be critical to the mission, depending on what’s going on.”
Blohm said he’s picked up several things from the class he never gave much thought to before.
For example, he was unaware how much field preparation differs for female Soldiers, from medical screenings to necessary hygiene products.
Sergeant Jacob Moore, a UH-60 Black Hawk mechanic with Company D, 4th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, said he is taking away a wealth of information of which he had previously been unaware, including placement of latrines in a camp, animal-borne illnesses, food sanitation and cold- and warm-weather injuries.
“A lot of things I learned I can teach other Soldiers and help them stay safe in the field,” said Moore.