Our heat wave is a cool day in Iraq


Gosh, it's hot! Haven't you heard? Temps in New York City have crested at 100, with the mayor urging anybody who feels nauseated to get to a hospital. In sweltering Chicago, there has been the predictable evacuation of thousands from high-rise ovens after the power failed on the South Side. Several consecutive triple-digit days in California have been blamed for 140 deaths, with average temperatures in Los Angeles averaging 6 degrees higher than normal. America is so hot you'd think it's Iraq.

Actually, not even close. This column usually focuses on global business trends, but since even CEOs are complaining about the heat--and not much business gets done in August anyway--it seems like a moment to reconsider what summer discomfort really is. So I E-mailed a friend who is serving a one-year tour in Iraq, as a civil-affairs officer stationed north of Baghdad, and asked what it's like dealing with the heat there.

"Everything is air-conditioned, right?" I joked. "And to cool off you can sip cocktails by the pool, can't you?"

He responded with good humor. Daytime temperatures in Iraq get as high as 130 degrees, he told me. The Iraqis call this time of year the "Black Days," because it's too hot to do almost anything. Most of the 150,000 American GIs in Iraq can wear shorts and T-shirts when they're off duty, but they must wear full uniforms to walk around base or go to the dining hall. And when on patrol or off base, 60 pounds' worth of body armor and other gear, including gloves and a helmet, go over that. It turns out a few of the largest bases really do have swimming pools, but most don't. Booze, of course, is forbidden.

Here are a few verbatim observations:

It's so hot, PowerBars melt in your pocket into a big ball of goop in the wrapper.

Any metal objects left in the sun become so hot you need gloves to pick them up.

Leave your bottle of water outside in the sun, and within an hour the water is also 130 degrees; it's like drinking a bottle of hot coffee. But when you're really sweating and suffering in the heat, you'll still drink it.

Imagine drinking 2-3 gallons of water every day, and not having to urinate once.

When you get back to your base, you strip off your body armor and uniform shirt, which are soaked with sweat, and lay them out in the sun. They are dry and hot, just like clothes out of a dryer, in less than five minutes.

Remember, we're not sitting in chairs out here. We're walking patrols, hauling all the radios, ammo, weapons, and extra gear. Sometimes you have to run, sometimes you're chasing somebody, and he's probably only wearing a T-shirt and some pants with his sandals.

On my base, it's the dust that will most wear you down. Even in the 130-degree heat, soldiers riding in open hatches wrap cloth completely around their faces with their goggles on to avoid their noses and mouths from getting a coating.

It's always windy here, and it feels like a hair dryer blowing in your face all the time, hot and dry. Know how when you walk past a large piece of machinery that is blowing out exhaust heat? Imagine that all the time, everyday, even in the shade, whenever you're outside.

Our little heat wave here in the States is obviously serious business for anybody with health concerns and for the power companies struggling to meet demand. But at least we can remove our body armor whenever we want! As I write, it's about 5 p.m. in New York, and the heat index is about 110. I think I'll go for a walk and enjoy the fresh air.

--Rick Newman

  • Rick Newman

    Rick Newman is the author of Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback to Success and the co-author of two other books. Follow him on Twitter or e-mail him at rnewman@usnews.com.