Military Field Hygiene and Sanitation
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Military Field Hygiene and Sanitation

Soldiers alter the environment they inhabit.

Soldiers do not always have access to the facilities necessary to maintain socially acceptable standards of cleanliness (from a civilian's point of view, anyway). Forawrd deployed units often live an extremely rugged lifestyle until sustainment resources can catch up with them. This style of living conditions is intimately familiar with soldiers like those of the Special Forces who regularly travel forward of the main body of the military force. Soldiers change the nature of the environment they occupy and alter the status quo by virtue of their very presence. E.B. Sledge, a collegiate officer trainee turned Marine 60 millimeter enlisted crew member and finally a college professor and author of With the Old Breed, recalled this tendency of soldiers to alter their operational environment in his recollection of combat experiences with the 5th Marines at Peleliu and Okinawa. There, Sledge reported an explosion of flies, crabs, and other scavenging creatures that cleaned up the refuse left over from conflict with the Japanese. Soldiers have seen similar situations in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and other regions in which large military forces have been stationed.

When a group of soldiers is assembled in the same location, they must carefully program their environment in order to keep it as clean as possible and limit the possibility of disease. There are several differences between the civilian world and a deployed military environment. For example, civilians have garbage men specifically employed for the purpose of sanitation. They also have complete autonomy over their operating environment, which means that they can establish dumping and landfill sites at their leisure. Soldiers, however, do not have this freedom. They must establish details to dispose of their garbage and waste through various methods, and they do not have the luxury of dumping it in they country they occupy (especially if they are concerned about winning the hearts and minds of the occupied population).

Soldiers also have to worry about the issue of security. The standard security answer today for the American Army is the FOB (Forward Operating Base), which is essentially a mini military base full of permanent and semi-permanent structures. This base essentially corrals soldiers into a densely packed, fenced, and encircled area in order to protect them. In such a densely populated environment, sanitation and hygiene must be carefully controlled in order to prevent the spread of disease. Eating must also be confined to specific areas, and the same is true of latrine and sleeping facilities.

The sanitation issues facing soldiers have some similarities to the environment of a football camp. Soldiers perform one or more missions per day, return to tight, cramped quarters, and do not always have available shower facilities or the time to use them. Also, they use the same helmets, body armor, knee pads, elbow pads, and other equipment on a daily basis, and this gear is not always possible to clean. When you pack thirty or more soldiers into a tent under these condtions, diseases are more likely to crop up. Feet that stay in boots all day have a high likelihood of getting athlete's foot.

We can learn from bad examples of military hygiene such as the Confederate Andersonville military prison in Georgia during the American Civil War. Careful attention to detail and obience to FOB and COP (Combat OutPost) regulations can improve living conditions among soldiers and allow military units to accomplish their missions without being sidelined from sickness.

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Comments (2)

Wow, this is stuff I've never heard about!

A very interesting article and thought provoking.