Army field sanitation is important for a number of reasons. First, it can significantly reduce the number of hospital visits and level of emergency care needed for personnel due to conditions brought on by poor hygiene. It can also increase morale and general unit attitudes, making them more actively present in the task at hand and keeping their spirits up. The presence of a skilled unit field sanitation team can keep the troops medically fit through the simple actions of keeping their environment as clean as possible.
Disease and nonbattle injury (DNBI) is a significant problem among battlefield units, as it can cripple a unit without enemy combatants ever firing a shot. The solution to these problems are preventive medicine measures (PMM) that can keep units from getting sick or incapacitated due to sanitation issues (Preface, iii-iv).
The FST (Field Sanitation Team) is one of the most important teams in an operation. Their duties are many, including conducting “arthropod and rodent control operations in the field, as directed by the commander” (Chapter 4, 4-1, Paragraph 3). What’s more, they make sure that water supplies are being disinfected whenever possible, and trains troops in how to purify their own water. Food service is inspected by the FST to prevent rotten or spoiled food from being consumed by the troops. Waste disposal and garbage/soakage pits are supervised by the FST to make sure they are adequately performed. Other supervision is applied upon chemical toilets and waste disposal bags, to make sure that they are disposed of correctly. Field latrines and urinals must be created if chemical toilets are not available. They are additionally responsible for training units in exercising PMM on their own terms (4-11.1D). In order to properly deal with the issue of sanitation in a unit, a sanitation center needs to be set up. It consists of a garbage can and three sinks, containing M2 field range burners and the like, among other equipment (A-21).
One concern brought up among many field sanitation experts is the presence of disease-carrying animals in friendly camps. “Poor sanitation and improper waste disposal under wartime conditions greatly increase the disease vector potential of such common pests as filth, flies and rodents” (Section III, 2-13). These pests are known as “camp followers,” and can exacerbate the problems units have with sanitation, for instance bringing epidemics of diarrhea and similar diseases – these can lead to noncombat casualties that are unacceptable in the field. One great danger to look out for is apathy among units where this particular regulation is concerned; there are instances where units have been tempted to not repel arthropods and dangerous rodents, to the detriment of their health and the instigation of DNBIs.
Arthropods, such as insects, are rampant disease carriers. What’s more, there are some animals that could be a direct danger to the safety of the unit; snakes can bite, as well as other domestic and wild animals. Part of sanitation is determining what animals could present a threat like that, and taking steps to minimize factors that would inspire their presence. Some of these factors include direct handling of these animals and arthropods, as that brings about the chance of biting or injury. Even if an animal is healthy, it should be treated as if it carries a potential disease, like rabies. The handling of a seemingly innocent animal can be the first step in being incapacitated due to an attack (Section III, 3-17).
Water should be purified and chlorinated; contaminants in the water supply, as well as contaminants from the air and animals that have been in the water supply, can wreak havoc on digestive systems of soldiers in the field. As a result, it is necessary for both individual troops and FSTs alike to check the water supplies and make sure they are properly chlorinated on a daily basis. Iodine water purification tables and field chlorination kits are a good way to determine whether or not the water is safe to drink or use; adding chlorine will diminish the level of contaminants in the water, rendering it sanitary (3-23).
Food safety is another concern; many hazards can come from expired food, animal droppings or contaminants in the ingredients. Food service personnel should not be allowed to work on food if they are ill or injured, as that can lead to spoiling or tainting of the food given to units. The foods themselves must be maintained at safe temperatures; frozen food must not be allowed to thaw and spoil, and if it is, it must be disposed of before being given to troops. In the event of purchasing supplies and equipment from civilian vendors, the utmost precautions must be made before consuming them, given the likely unknown and possibly dangerous conditions from whence the vendors got the foodstuffs. The mess kit laundry/sanitation center can be used to sanitize this food (pp. 3-23-24).
When handling the food, whether military or civilian-sourced, hands must be sanitized through handwashing devices. Food waste must also be dealt with adequately; any uneaten food or parts of meals can later spoil, and diminish the hygiene levels of the camp or unit barracks. This must be curtailed at all costs, and as a result, food waste has to be disposed of at a place that is 30 meters or further from base camp, and especially where food is prepared. Any closer than that, and it risks contaminating other fresh food that has yet to be administered to troops (3-24).
When disposing of waste, “the primary type of human waste disposal devices in bivouac areas are the chemical toilets,” which are used and applied if available (3-24, paragraph 6). However, if those facilities are not available, it is still necessary to create an improvised waste disposal method. These vary according to “mission, length of stay in the area, terrain and weather conditions” (paragraph 7), but the best method to dispose of waste in the absence of a chemical toilet is a burn-out latrine. This gets rid of waste so there is no danger of contaminants, and works nearly as effectively as a chemical toilet.
Preventing DNBI is an absolutely vital part of running a military unit. “Historically, in every conflict the US has been involved in, only 20 percent of all hospital admissions have been from combat injuries. The other 80 percent have been from DNBI” (Section 1, 1-1). There are even more whose combat effectiveness was reduced because of DNBI, though not entirely eliminated. As a result, it is of paramount importance that field sanitation be implemented in as many ways as possible; this ensures that more soldiers are ready, willing and healthy on the field to perform their tasks. As a unit leader, the responsibility falls to them to maintain the condition of the troops, and diminish medical threats in order to keep them as fit as possible for the mission at hand (Section 1-2).
In the event of a DNBI casualty, not only is the specific unit taken out of action, the entire unit is weaker as a result. Units can become demoralized by the filthy conditions they are subjected to with poor sanitation, and the loss of others in the unit to DNBI can be disheartening to a cohesive and established military unit. This can dramatically affect the combat and noncombat effectiveness of the whole unit, and can lower morale if others are in a diminished capacity due to DNBI. Therefore, it is in the entire unit’s best interest to lessen the chances whenever possible of contamination or diminished capacity due to poor sanitation and the like.
In conclusion, there are many things that proper field sanitation can do for a unit – the most important one is prevent DNBI in the field, whether it be disease or other type of injury. By making sure that the food and water supplies remain safe and sanitary at all times, units can take nourishment while minimizing the risk of becoming contaminated, infected or injured. Also, by eliminating the presence of arthropods and other indigenous animals, risk of infection or disease by snakes, rodents and the like will be severely lowered, and increase the likelihood of having a strong, healthy military unit available to perform readily. The importance of field sanitation is stressed even further when the ease of these duties are made clear; through simple maintenance of the food and water of the camp, as well as management of the environment and its indigenous animals and arthropods, one can ensure a healthy and service-ready unit.
US Army. Field hygiene and sanitation: FM 21-10 ; MCRP 4-11.1D. Washington DC: Department of Defense, 2007. Print.