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Soldier Care Tips

June 23, 2003 03:21 PM

A young soldier going to selection asked about some preparation tips. The more I thought, the more I remembered. I began to realize that some of this was in the category of "Lost Knowledge" in the sense that many younger soldiers and leaders haven't been taught this stuff. Below are some thoughts, collected over the years.


Go barefoot as much as possible to toughen the feet. I also found that soaking my feet in salt water toughened them as well. I have friends who use rubbing alcohol and get good results.

Ditch the cushy insoles. The old saran (?) venting insoles were perfect. This has to do with sense organs in the feet known as proprioceptors. (Beyond the scope of this paper. Look it up.) Getting rid of soft insoles reduces fatigue and improves balance. I'm convinced that cushy insoles are the reason most soldiers move with the grace of a pregnant yak. They also contribute to knee and ankle injuries.

The old Ranger Multi Component Boot System was the heat. It consisted of a poly pro undersock, the old tan wool ski sock, gore tex socks and the speed lace leg boot. (They still make the ski sock. You just have to hunt for it.) Any seamless wool sock will work, as long as it's about the same thickness of the gore tex sock. Smart Wool is the finest sock made. , Woolrich also makes an excellent wool/nylon blend sock.) It worked as follows: Road march 4-6 miles over to clothing sales. This gives the feet time to swell. Put on the poly pro sock and ski sock, toss the cushy insole and fit the boot. In the event of wet weather, substitute the gore tex sock for the thick wool sock, over the poly pro and a thin wool sock. Don't panic if your current boots only fit with thin socks. Removing the insoles will free up enough space for this to work.

Try to find lightweight boots. An old ultra-light hiker adage goes that a pound on the foot equals five pounds on the back. Desert or Jungle Boots are best.

Spray the feet with the strongest ANTI-PERSPIRANT you can buy, starting about a week before you launch. I recommend Arrid XX powder. On the subject of powder, Gold Bond is the best. Works on all body parts, fights heat rash, cools, and soothes. Generic equivalent is great as it is about $3/bottle cheaper. Use liberally, everywhere.

Pre cut moleskin in various sizes, taking care to round the corners. I usually keep about 15 pieces, ranging in size from a .50 piece to as large as a playing card. Get some tincture of benzoin to stick it down. Add some bacitracin or neosporin for the ones that pop. If you get a blister, drain with a sterile needle, then protect as follows: Paint the area with benzoin. While waiting for it to dry, cut a donut of moleskin with the hole large enough to surround the blister. Save the donut hole. Stick the donut around the blister, then apply a dab of neosporin to the PAPER side of the donut hole. DO NOT remove the backing from the moleskin on the donut hole. Place the hole, paper side down over the blister and cover with another layer of moleskin. Powder and get dressed. You can leave this in place up to 48 hours, BUT NO LONGER.

Another good product is Spenco Adhesive Knit. It stretches and conforms better and has a medical grade adhesive. Spyroflex is another good substitute.

Prevention, as always, is the best medicine. Moleskin at the first sign of a hot spot. Even 100 mph tape will work if you round the corners. Use the silver stuff, not the trash the Army is currently buying.

When you remove it, peel up a corner and gently roll it up. This prevents tearing off new skin with old. Trust me.

Get one of those pumice stones and keep the calluses dressed and under control. Getting a blister under a callus and then pulling off a slab of meat with your sock is one of those events you'd rather watch than experience.

Liquid Skin is a must. It will substitute for antiseptics and band aids. Cover with a good quality tape. Duct tape is excellent.

Keep this whole mess in a Tupperware container.


Eat the salt, sugar and cocoa packet with every meal and wash down with a quart of water. (Cocoa has potassium.) Don't worry about high blood pressure. Less than 3% of the population is salt sensitive and even if you are, that's next year's problem. Heat stroke will kill you today. Just rip open the packets and toss them down.

Putting sport drink in your canteen is a bad idea. Things will grow in the sugar residue. Put it in a Nalgene bottle and use your MRE spoon to flip a couple of spoonfuls in your mouth occasionally. Gatorade is the best on the market at a reasonable price.


Dial soap and Noxzema were developed in WW II for soldier hygiene. Dial is anti bacterial. Noxzema allows you to shave without water while it conditions the skin. Makes cleaning your razor easier, removes camo, prevents dry skin, etc. The advent of anti bacterial baby wipes makes Dial less useful for the field, but it's still good in the ISB. You can normally obtain "pack" size bars of Dial soap whenever you stay at a chain Motel.

Waterless hand cleaner for quick clean ups. Carry it in your pocket so you won't be tempted to skip using it.

A small bottle of alcohol or peroxide is useful for disinfecting your toothbrush.

Use your insect repellent and Chigg Away. Everyday. West Nile, malaria, etc. will kill you just as dead as bullets.


Gore Tex gear is a waterproof and windproof shell. Complaints about it being cold can generally be traced to no insulating layer (bear suit, wool sweater, etc.). The other cause is constricting clothing. You need to remove your BDU's when wearing all your Gore Tex. BDU's are worthless insulators and compress your hot gear, reducing the amount of space available for warm air.


I am opposed to having synthetic fabric next to your skin, especially in a unit with vehicles. Poly Pro melts and burns at a low temperature. Cotton long johns won't cut it either. Cotton holds too much water. I think wool is the answer. or will get you good wool long johns. Warm when wet, flame retardant and softer than poly pro. You can wear the fleece or bear suit over wool. The wool will protect you from the poly.

The wool sweater and scarf are still the greatest things going. Do not be deceived by that cheesy acrylic one that they're trying to sell. Whoever came up with that should have to eat a pallet load of them. Go to the surplus store if you have to.


I usually keep Alka Seltzer Cold Formula (useful after those late night meetings at the TOC), Benadryl, cough lozenges, pain pills. I keep Imodium also, but am generally against this as an issue item unless you have a lot of field medicine experience. I have seen Imodium stop people up so tight that parasites were forced into their bloodstream. Better for general issue is Pepto Bismol tablets or Kaopectate. I still think the medic should distribute this so he can monitor the victim.


At a bare minimum, you need to get four (4) hours of uninterrupted sleep for every 24 hours to maintain continuous operations. Six to eight hours is normally a luxury, but take it if you can. Cat nap every chance you get; 15-30 minutes can carry a long way.

Get a good quality traveler's blindfold from REI, etc. Best $5-$12 bucks you'll ever spend. Use earplugs also.

Two ponchos, one above the other, will lower the temperature drastically if forced to sleep in the sun.

Take 5 minutes to prepare your bed. Remove rocks, clumps, etc. The old soldier's saying "One minute spent preparing your bed is equal to one hour's sleep" is true. Keep clutter in your pockets to a minimum. Dig out a small hollow for your butt. Or a large hollow if necessary. If you find yourself landscaping your position every night, add some weightlifting to your PT. It burns fat faster. In cold weather, always put something between you and the ground. The bare ground acts as a heat sink. As the night progresses, it will rob you of body heat. It pays to thatch a bed of pine needles or leaves together to add insulation between you and the ground. If you can carry one, take a thermal casualty blanket (aluminum on one side, green on the other) with you. Fold the blanket in half, (aluminum inside, green outside) and lay your bedroll on top. The Aluminum will help reflect body heat back up to you.

If it's cold, beat your boots for a couple of minutes, eat some carbs and cover your head with a WOOL knit watch cap. (Double duty equipment: Get one a Nomex tanker's hood. Serves as hot gear and fire protection.) Do about 5 minutes of brisk calisthenics. Do a quick set of stretches (full body) and off to bed. Keep your face outside the bag to keep the inside from getting wet.

Don't wear your boots to bed. If you must keep them on, untie and loosen the laces all the way down the boot to allow your feet to breathe. If it is cold outside, tuck your boots away in the bottom of your sleeping bag to keep them warm. Check boots for hitchhikers in the morning.


My opinion on pushups, situps and the two-mile run is unprintable. Put a bag on your back and walk. On hills. Through sand. This builds the supporting muscles and strengthens the connective tissues as well. In my younger days, long and heavy were the order of the day. I have become convinced (and a bit smarter) over the years that 50 lbs. and 4-6 miles is adequate for all but special occasions. Rucking is largely mental, especially after the first 5 miles. For those special occasions, up to 90 lbs for 4 miles or 65 for 10+ is good. This is not a good idea on a regular basis.

Carrying a piece of 5' piece of 4X4 will strengthen the arms like nothing else.

Pullups rule for bodyweight exercises. Two-arm swings, cleans, cleans and jerks and one arm snatches with dumbbells, kettlebells or sandbags will build strength and endurance, especially when done off an elevated platform. Build up to the elevation though.

Work on strengthening the abs. Not to max the PT test, but to get strong. 5 ton pushing, mortar tube humping, casualty carrying strong.

The US Army Physical Fitness School website has excellent programs as does . These are rarely seen in the field as they don't contribute to pushup and situp improvement. They do, however, get soldiers fit.


Training: Training is supposed to be tough. Mind numbing, ball busting difficult. Little food, less sleep and lots of live ammo. Ask yourself "Would I do this in combat?" If the answer is "No", then why not? Too dangerous? Dig out the risk assessment and mitigate. If the answer is "Yes", then push the limits. The "tangibles" (hits on target, rounds expended, etc.) are easy to see. The "intangibles" (confidence in self and leaders, aggression, etc.) can be seen but not measured. Both are important.

Combat: This is why you're here. Always keep in mind you are in the best-equipped, most lethal Army in existence. Which is probably the last reason you should be optimistic. The main reason? You're leading Americans, the most dangerous combatants ever to hit the field. Some wag once observed that Americans like shooting people so well when we don't have a declared enemy, we shoot one another to stay in practice. He's not far wrong?.

The other reason to be encouraged is that you are the latest in a long line of warriors. There have been ups and downs in leadership and we're going to have more before it's over. But, on the whole, Americans have always done well. Take heart that many before you have done their duty, even to their end and have done it well. You will be no different. If you ever wonder where you should be and what you should be doing, go to the hottest part of the fight and set an example.

Clean your rifle, check your soldiers and say your prayers.