Defense mistakes led to soldiers' heatstroke: report

Dutch soldiers with Minimi-light machine guns
Dutch soldiers with Minimi-light machine guns. (Photo: Defensie)

Major mistakes made by the Ministry of Defense led to incidents in which soldiers suffered heatstrokes during training in the Netherlands, television program Zembla reports based on "recent, confidential investigation reports".

A Defense committee investigated four incidents in which six soldiers had to be hospitalized after suffering heatstrokes during training. At least three of the soldiers suffered permanent damage, according to the program. The incidents mentioned in the report happened during exercises in the Netherlands in the spring and summer of 2017. In all cases, temperatures were above 25 degrees. The committee concluded that Defense has insufficient knowledge on how to prevent heat injury. 

A heatstroke is caused by overheating of the body. It can be life threatening as heatstroke can cause damage to organs. Acute medical attention is necessary when someone suffers a heat stroke. In 2016 Kelvin Bosman, a 20-year-old Koninlijke Marechaussee officer-in-training, died of the effects of a heatstroke. The Ministry of Defense acknowledged liability for his death in February this year.

The investigative committee recommended adapting the exercises and clothing of soldiers to the high temperatures, and doing a risk analysis before training starts. According to the reports in Zembla's possession, that did not happen in all incidents. Despite the high temperatures, soldiers had to perform their exercises in full equipment, including helmet, overcoat, gloves and luggage. 

Nico van der Zee, director of Security at Defense, acknowledged to Zembla that the armed forces paid insufficient attention to the risks. He called the knowledge on heat injury "insufficient" at the Ministry of Defense. 

New figures from the Ministry of Defense show that the Ministry received 89 reports of heat-related injuries since 2011, according to NU.nl. Of these, 30 cases resulted in hospitalization. 42 incidents happened at the Royal Netherlands Army and 33 at the Navy. Seven soldiers suffered permanent damage after a heatstroke. 

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