Almost Serving Temperature

 

The thermometer hanging in the shade outside my battalion headquarters building read 150° Fahrenheit. Decades-old experience as a battalion food service officer prompted the thought “we’re 15 degrees below serving temperature!” It later turned out that the reading was off, about 25 degrees high, due to design limitations of the consumer-grade thermometer we had. So it was only in the 120’s Fahrenheit. But it was a dry heat—like a blowtorch!

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld would later say “you go to war with the Army you have.” So, in 2003, the Army went to war in Iraq with the equipment it had, which was designed for Germany and Korea. That went for everything from sleeping bags to vehicles. Temperate zone sleeping bags and no washing machines prompted requests for bed sheets in first letters and emails home. The trucks were not armored, so just keep the windows down and drape a wet bandanna on the back of your neck. Soldiers quickly remembered evaporative cooling and tied water bottles in wet socks off the rear view mirrors to get drinkable temperature water at convoy stops.

But what about sleeping when the air temperature in a dry desert only drops about 30 degrees from the daytime high? How do you sleep on top of your nylon cot in a giant food warmer? Very poorly—until my resourceful staff from the desert Southwest solved the problem and brought blessed relief weeks ahead of our neighbors who had spent their lives in cooler or humid climes.

As we moved into the old Iraqi airbase north of Baghdad, we saw the buildings had been stripped by local residents. I immediately recognized the broken drum fan units on the ground and the remaining ductwork on the roof. Lots of homes and businesses in Arizona and west Texas had the same thing—evaporative coolers.

The operations officer researched historical humidity tables for our location. Sure enough, it was just about like home. The humidity would usually be low enough for evaporative coolers to work. Our intrepid supply officer took advantage of access to shops on the civilian economy before the resistance got going. He came back with a truckload of simple evaporative coolers and water storage tanks.

We mounted the storage tanks above the coolers, using gravity to feed water into the coolers, controlled by simple float valves. The coolers were boxes with straw pad air filters on three sides. A small water pump dripped water over the pads while a drum fan pulled hot dry air through the damp pads, pushing cool slightly moist air in through the window. This dropped the interior temperature into the 90s, letting everyone sleep.

But what about the water supply? No problem. Our friendly neighbors in the water supply battalion provided the smallest of their storage tanks, which looked a bit like a giant onion, and topped it off every few days. Morning chores now included running a hose to the water drums or refilling them with five-gallon jerry cans. The simple fans and water pumps were durable and consumed so little power we could run them along with computers, radios, and light sets, using only our 10 to 60-kilowatt tactical generators.

How the box of photos I mailed home went missing, then not, then irretrievably missing, is a tale for another day. Here is a picture of the kind of unit in the American Southwest that inspired us. It is about the same as we were able to find on the local Iraqi economy. One of the sides with straw pads is open.

Our neighbors turned up their noses at our solution. “Swamp coolers!” Just not good enough. So the contracts were let for various air conditioning units and lots of civilian generators, which required lots of extra maintenance and fuel. Eventually, we joined the crowd, after the power and cooling units were proven reliable. But for a while, one little piece of Iraq became like one little piece of old-style Arizona.

There are 8 comments.

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  1. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    It always warms the cockles of my heart, knowing that whatever the austerity of the environment, the harshness of the area of operations, and the severity of the climate, the American Troop will “make it happen.”  Every time.

    • #1
  2. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    I’ll take a good half solution right now for a great solution in the distant future, thank you.


    This conversation is part of our Group Writing Series. I’m looking out my window at the snow on the ground and imagining that warmth of Iraq. Yes, the snow is melting just imagining it. Goodbye, February cold. You’re suddenly a little more bearable. If you would like to brag about how you’ve made the best of a hot situation, brag on your summers, our otherwise warm our winter hearts, why not sign up for our Group Writing under February’s theme of “We Need a Little Summer” and chase the winter blues away?

    • #2
  3. GLDIII Reagan
    GLDIII
    @GLDIII

    Clifford A. Brown:
    The thermometer hanging in the shade outside my battalion headquarters building read 150° Fahrenheit. Decades old experience as a battalion food service officer prompted the thought “we’re 15 degrees below serving temperature!” It later turned out that the reading was off, about 25 degrees high, due to design limitations of the consumer-grade thermometer we had. So it was only in the 120’s Fahrenheit. But it was a dry heat—like a blowtorch!

    According to the current FoodSaftety.gov folks, if you were considered Pork or Fish (145F) you are ready to serve!

     

    • #3
  4. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    Sweet !

    • #4
  5. Scott Wilmot Member
    Scott Wilmot
    @ScottWilmot

    Very interesting post.

    My family and I lived in Qatar for 5 years. I remember those days in the convection oven dry-heat.

    Officially if the temperature ever got above 50dC/122dF, the guest workers slave labor was not allowed to work. I think the government had one of those cheap thermometers like you had, but theirs only went to up to 120.

    • #5
  6. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Anyone besides me remember those evaporative cooling bags that used to hang on the bumper of just about every car in the southwest U.S.?  This was in the days when hardly any cars had real air conditioning.  We never had one ourselves, but we’d see them when driving in the dry desert heat to San Diego to visit cousins. Sometimes you’d see those air conditioning units that hung outside the car from the passenger’s window. I didn’t realize until I looked it up just now, but those were evaporative cooling systems.

    For one drive through the desert Dad bought a big block of dry ice, set it on the driveshaft hump in the back seat, and told us kids not to touch it. We didn’t. Nowadays he’d get sent up for child abuse for doing such a thing, cuz you can die if there is no place for the CO2 to go. But back in those days people were still allowed to manage their own risks.

    • #6
  7. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    For one drive through the desert Dad bought a big block of dry ice, set it on the driveshaft hump in the back seat, and told us kids not to touch it. We didn’t.

    That’s some sheer awesome, right there.

    • #7
  8. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    I did half of my growing up half an hour south of Albuquerque New Mexico. Where I lived, outside of the city and down in the cottonwoods of the bosque along the Rio Grande, swamp coolers were state of the art. You had to replace the little plastic drip tubes every few years, but otherwise they pretty much ran forever, and were cheap and easy to fix.

    • #8
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