Military, first responders and weather [classic article]

As first seen in GI Money magazine

The images never fail to spark the imagination of those who see them: Soldiers standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, National Guardsmen fighting wildfires in hotter than Hell temperatures, Coast Guard rescuers facing the fiercest hurricanes and winter storms around the country. The weather our troops often have to face can rival global enemies.

The 3rd U.S Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) conducts memorial affairs to honor our fallen comrades, and ceremonies and special events to represent the Army, communicating its story to our Nation’s citizens and the world. It’s the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the Army, serving the country since 1784.  Iconic photos of the unit guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia during Hurricane Sandy reminded the American public of the soldiers’ duties. The 24 hour a day vigil is unconditional. Soldiers’ convenience or comfort is besides the point: they guard the remains of their fellow soldiers who would have given them the very same honor.

There are those who say working in blistering heat is some of the most punishing, grueling work there is. You can’t bundle up to relieve the effects of the extreme temperatures as in cold weather and yet, you can’t strip down to nothing: lots of protective gear must be worn. Many National Guard units have agreements to assist local firefighters when certain conditions are triggered. Every summer, whether as part of the natural cycle or as a result of man-made carelessness, there are forest fires in the West that result in hundreds of thousands of acres and billions of dollars of damage. The risk to the Guardsmen escalates with each shift in the wind. According to The Weather Channel, even when there’s a bit of rain after a summer fire, danger still exists. With less vegetation and few tree roots, mud easily can become an erosion problem.

While hypothermic gear and other protective devices go a long way to assist Coast Guardsmen during missions in places like the Bering Sea, the human body has limits as to what it can do and what it can survive. The 2008 rescue of 42 of the 47 fishermen of the vessel Alaska Ranger was considered the Coast Guard’s most challenging rescue. Not content to rest on its laurels after the rescue, the Guard did some self-examination after the incident. This led to the President signing the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010, which in part provides for “Finishing organizational realignment of the service”: using the best processes to “ensure Coast Guard men and women have the training, tools, and leadership necessary to safely and successfully fulfill our missions of maritime safety, security and stewardship.” Also, the Act validates the Coast Guard’s decision to take control of the process to replace aging cutters and aircraft, to provide our men and women in uniform with state of the art platforms to conduct Coast Guard missions.

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