Article: Wehrmedizinische Monatsschrift 10/2018

Military operations in the heat – the effect of a two weeks acclimatization program on heat related injuries in the Royal Netherlands Army

Gerard Rietjens¹, ²
¹The Netherlands Ministry of Defence, Utrecht, Niederlande
²Free University Brussels, Brüssel, Belgien

Photo Background

Military Forces are engaged in prolonged and highly demanding missions. Operational performance is dependent on a wide spectrum of (inter-)related factors including terrain, and environmental conditions, such as (extreme) high or low temperatures. Insufficient coping capabilities may become the limiting factors for successful accomplishment of these sustained missions. Thermal strain is an important parameter in soldier performance. In the heat, soldiers may become exhausted so that direct activities have to be stopped.

Lessons learned by the Royal Netherlands Army

During their first deployment in Iraq (2003) the Royal Netherlands Army first came into contact with heat-related injuries on a large scale. In order to minimize these heat problems in the future deployments, an extensive acclimatization program was developed (Table 1). 

All Dutch military personnel, who are sent for deployment, have to follow a specialized acclimatization program. The protocol describes the acclimatization program which, depending on the working conditions, could last from a minimum of three days to two times five days. If there was an acclimatization period of two times five days, the first period is focused on physiological adaptation as a general military in the deployment area and the second period on adaptation under the „own“ specific military working conditions. In special cases with very well trained units, who have also been exposed to extreme climatic conditions during their regular training, it was possible to shorten the acclimatization program to seven days. A separate program was drawn up for them.

Positive outcome

This program resulted in a decrease of more than 95 % in the number of heat related issues. Nowadays this acclimatization protocol is a mandatory routine for every unit that is deployed to areas where extreme weather conditions may apply in relation to Dutch climate.

Dr. Gerard Rietjens

Date: 10/11/2018