What I Learned Braving The Cold In The Army

U.S. Army photo

Squinting my eyes in the near white out conditions was mildly annoying, and, sure, I was worried about the 30-mile-per-hour winds beating against the few inches of skin I’d arrogantly left exposed. But, still, I felt at home. For my out-of-state friends, however, the situation was a little more dire. It was December in the Dakotas, and none of them had ever experienced weather like that before. Miserable as they were, I couldn’t help but remind them that this was “toboggan” weather — the sort of weather local children break their sleds out for.

Growing up in South Dakota, I gained a healthy respect for what the winter season is capable of. We send our kids to school in this weather, we go to work in this weather, and, hell, we even go out to the lake in this weather just to drill a hole in the ice and sit around it all day. For fun. That’s just life on the high plains in the winter. It takes a special breed to live and thrive in subzero conditions for weeks at a time. It also takes some common sense and a little bit of know-how to prevent cold weather injuries.

Every year, cold weather injuries claim countless people who ventured into the unforgiving elements unprepared and untrained. Don’t be one of them. If, this winter, you’re going to lose your mind and head out to the Dakotas, or any other place where freezing to death (literally) is possible, first do yourself a favor and memorize the Army’s KOLD acronym: Keep it clean, avoid Overheating, wear clothing Loose and in Layers, and keep clothing Dry. That’s a good start, but here are a few more key tips to help you stay warm and, more importantly, alive.

U.S. Army photo

1. Cover every inch of your skin, literally.

Exposure to these elements can be a sure way to find yourself in a bad situation. In addition to the obvious — covering your feet, legs, arms, and core like you would in normal winter conditions — you will also need to have something for your hands, face, and head. The skin on your face will be brutalized in the piercing wind, and your hands will go numb within a minute or two if unsheathed. I personally like my Marmot Randonnee gloves as they have a moisture-wicking liner and cinch close at their opening to keep driving winds out. Every bit of bare skin is a crack in your armor, don’t give the enemy an opening to attack you! Pack accordingly.

2. Dress in layers that make sense.

Extreme temperature swings are possible in remote environments, so you’ll need the ability to quickly add to or take away from your wardrobe. A wicking material, such as synthetic polyester or merino wool, should always be used as the base layer against your skin. This will help keep your skin dry when performing vigorous activities, and will be comfortable when you shed your other layers to crawl into a sleeping bag at night. After that, you will need 2-3 light to medium layers (almost any material is acceptable, but at least one layer should be insulated), and they should all be loose fitting. Finally, your winter parka will be your exterior shell. I have worn the Beyond Clothing Level 7 Parka in some of the most extreme environments possible without suffering so much as a shiver - you absolutely cannot go wrong with the L7 as your outer layer. Follow a similar scheme for your legs (but not as many layers) for best results.

3. Chapstick and sunglasses are a must.

It’s often the small things that make the difference between comfort and injury. I’m a Blistex kind of guy myself, but as long as you are using some sort of chap-stick, you should be in the clear. I’ve seen people forego this measure and have cracked, bleeding lips by the end of the afternoon. As far as sunglasses go, almost anything will do. They serve two purposes. One, they act as a barrier between your eyes and the driving wind. And two, they prevent straining your eyes against the bright white environment. In some environments, you’ll need specialized glasses for prolonged outdoor activity, so do your research and plan accordingly.

Arctic Tough 1st Sgt. Jonathan M. Emmett leads U.S. Army Alaska Aviation Task Force Soldiers assigned to Headquarters Company, 1-52 Aviation Regiment, at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, as they conduct Cold Weather Indoctrination Course II (CWIC) training November 19, 2015.U.S. Army photo

4. Don’t get wet.

Seriously, don’t do that. Getting wet is one of the fastest ways to find yourself with a severe cold weather injury that can be potentially life threatening. If you are going to do an activity like ice fishing, make sure you keep a towel and an extra set of dry clothes nearby just in case. If you are doing something active that will cause you to sweat, make sure you heed the above advice about that wicking base layer. Being wet in sub-zero temps is no joke, so make sure you take this one seriously.

5. Remember: shivering isn’t a good thing.

If you are shivering, it means your body is trying to generate heat via rapidly moving muscles. It’s a defense mechanism that helps regulate body temperature, just as sweating does. Unlike sweating though, shivering is a sign that you are doing something wrong. If you are dry and dressed appropriately, you should be completely warm and comfortable from your head to your toes — no shivers needed. Ultimately, this can be boiled down to listening to your body when it’s telling you something is wrong.

The first grenade core was accidentally discovered on Nov. 28, 2018, by Virginia Department of Historic Resources staff examining relics recovered from the Betsy, a British ship scuttled during the last major battle of the Revolutionary War. The grenade's iron jacket had dissolved, but its core of black powder remained potent. Within a month or so, more than two dozen were found. (Virginia Department of Historic Resources via The Virginian-Pilot)

In an uh-oh episode of historic proportions, hand grenades from the last major battle of the Revolutionary War recently and repeatedly scrambled bomb squads in Virginia's capital city.

Wait – they had hand grenades in the Revolutionary War? Indeed. Hollow iron balls, filled with black powder, outfitted with a fuse, then lit and thrown.

And more than two dozen have been sitting in cardboard boxes at the Department of Historic Resources, undetected for 30 years.

Read More Show Less
Jeremy Cuellar, left, and Kemia Hassel face life in prison if convicted of murdering Army Sgt. Tyrone Hassel III in Berrien County Dec. 31, 2018. (Courtesy of Berrien County Sheriff's Dept.)

BERRIEN COUNTY, MI -- The wife of an Army sergeant killed in December admitted that she planned his killing together with another man, communicating on Snapchat in an attempt to hide their communications, according to statements she made to police.

Read More Show Less

A Coast Guard lieutenant arrested this week planned to "murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country," according to a court filing requesting he be detained until his trial.

Read More Show Less
(From left to right) Chris Osman, Chris McKinley, Kent Kroeker, and Talon Burton

At least four American veterans were among a group of eight men arrested by police in Haiti earlier this week for driving without license plates and possessing an arsenal of weaponry and tactical gear.

Police in Port-au-Prince arrested five Americans, two Serbians, and one Haitian man at a police checkpoint on Sunday, according to The Miami-Herald. The men told police they were on a "government mission" but did not specify for which government, according to The Herald.

They also told police that "their boss was going to call their boss," implying that someone high in Haiti's government would vouch for them and secure their release, Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles told NPR.

What they were actually doing or who they were potentially working for remains unclear. A State Department spokesperson told Task & Purpose they were aware that Haitian police arrested a "group of individuals, including some U.S. citizens," but declined to answer whether the men were employed by or operating under contract with the U.S. government.

Read More Show Less
A photo shared by Hoda Muthana on her now-closed @ZumarulJannaTwitter account. (Twitter/ZumarulJannah)

The State Department announced Wednesday that notorious ISIS bride Hoda Muthana, a U.S.-born woman who left Alabama to join ISIS but began begging to return to the U.S. after recently deserting the terror group, is not a U.S. citizen and will not be allowed to return home.

Read More Show Less