Nobody knows heat like the Marines in this scorching corner of Arizona.
Some of the lessons the military is about to put into use in Iraq were learned here, at the Marine Corps Air Station.
Last year, Yuma had 113 days over 100 degrees, and the maximum average high temperature in July was 110 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. Yuma's all-time high is 124 degrees.
"All I can say is the climate is similar to Baghdad's," said Doug Green, a science officer with the National Weather Service in Phoenix. "There's not a lot of difference."
A lingering question is if the fighting in Iraq drags on through the summer, can U.S. troops and their equipment handle the intense heat.
Daytime temperatures in the Iraqi deserts in July reach 110 to 115 degrees, said Randy Cerveny, an associate professor of geography at Arizona State University.
The most recent forecasts predict temperatures in southern Iraq expected to reach the 90s by today.By June, temperatures should break 100; by July, it could reach 120 degrees.
Combat troops usually lug packs and equipment weighing between 40 and 100 pounds, base officials said. They also wear chemical suits — sometimes for long periods — that trap heat and stop the body's natural method of cooling. These factors could hurt their ability to fight, critics point out.
But U.S. military officials contend that American combat troops will cope with the heat because they train in places like Yuma. The Iraqi summer may slow the tempo of the operation, but not enough to have a significant effect, military officials and others said.
"The heat certainly can be a factor," said Navy Lt. Rebecca Dale, who works at the Yuma air base's first aid station. "But the Marines will be successful because they train the way they work."
Base officials said Marines do physical training at least three times a week, which can include runs of 5 miles or more. They also participate in frequent military training operations in the Arizona desert.
Drinking enough water is key, Dale said. She also said it is crucial that the troops replenish salt in their bodies.
Marines are required to drink between at least two 32-ounce canteens of water a day during training, Dale said. They use the "buddy system" to watch each other for signs of heat exhaustion. Such signs include intense sweating, confusion, dizziness and fatigue. Marines also are "climatized" to their environment, meaning they're given a couple of weeks for their bodies to adjust, Dale said.
William Cole, a Navy corpsman who has worked at the aid station for two summers, said heat-related injuries don't happen very often despite the often high-tempo training in Yuma. He was part of one exercise in which military personnel put on chemical suits under the July sun, then were asked a series of questions about the suits.
"It was very hot," Cole said.
Equipment is put through the same rigors.
"It's very durable, very reliable," said Marine Sgt. Sean St. Louis, who operates water purification machines, decontamination equipment, generators and other equipment at the base. "We put it through hell."
St. Louis, who will soon be deployed to Iraq, pointed to the equipment the Marines use to make drinking water. The reverse osmosis purification unit, a large machine that can purify up to 1,000 gallons of water per hour, including sea water, is virtually immune to heat, he said. "Without water, you're going home," St. Louis said. "There is no mission."
About the only effect heat has on the water purifying equipment is as it gets hotter, the amount of chemicals going into the water has to be adjusted, he said.
Some of the equipment used on the battlefield in Iraq has been tested in the Arizona desert, base officials said.
"If it can handle it out here in Yuma, sure it can handle it in Iraq," said Marine Sgt. William Egleberry, a refrigeration mechanic with a Marine maintenance unit. He works on the cooling systems for radar.
Potential heat-related problems for equipment are few and minor, St. Louis said. They include air pressure on tires, which can increase in the summer heat and cause blowouts. Troops require more water for drinking, showers and washing clothes. Also, the Marines are switching the fuel most of their equipment runs on, from diesel to JP-5 jet fuel, which is more volatile, especially in high heat, St. Louis said.
If there is a weak link, it isn't the ability of troops and equipment to withstand the Iraqi summer heat, St. Louis said. Instead, it is whether supplies and repair parts get to front line troops on time, he said.
"Supplies have always been the worst part," St. Louis said.
Military analysts are quick to point out the heat is a factor on both sides of the battlefield.
"The hot weather will affect the other side more than it will affect us," said Harlan Ullman with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. "If we get into a situation where we're attacking Baghdad and holding siege, the absence of water and other supplies I suspect will
probably hurt the Iraqis more than it will hurt us."
Tim Eads, a retired Army lieutenant colonel for special operations, said the heat can "slow your tempo down" because the troops have to drink more water and rest more. However, the operation won't be hurt by summer temperatures, he said.
"The short answer is no," said Eads, who has appeared on various cable television news shows to talk about Iraq. "Our troops train consistently in very adverse environments. They're used to it."