New safety measures are being implemented for the Marine Corps, following the death of a 22-year-old Camp Lejeune Marine last summer. Cpl. Alexis Alcaraz died of heat stroke on a humid August day in North Carolina, shortly after participating in a 6-mile hike — which began just before sunrise.
The temperature stayed below 73 degrees throughout the duration of the hike. Alcaraz, who had no signs of existing health issues before that morning, had a body temperature of 106.7 degrees when he collapsed.
Alcaraz joined the service in 2012, and according to officials with 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, the field radio operator earned “first-class scores” on his past physical and combat fitness tests.
On the 13th of August, however, something went terribly wrong. Alcaraz and 90 other Marines were on a 6-mile hike, scheduled to last about two hours, at a pace of about 3mph. Somewhere around the fifth mile, Alcaraz started feeling dizzy and his right arm went numb. He fell to one knee and lost consciousness, the investigation states. Alcaraz was taken to the nearby Naval Hospital where the ER staff tried to resuscitate him. He was pronounced dead at 6:47 a.m.
The early morning exercise kicked off at 4:40am, which meant the Marines participating couldn’t hit the chow hall, which opened at 6 a.m. The investigating officer found that no arrangements were made to provide members of 1/8 with food before the hump. That detail seems strange considering that an operational risk management worksheet for the hike stated that “section leadership will ensure each Marine consumes chow prior to departing for the event.”
The investigating officer recommended that in the future, the division “mandate that all units conducting extended duration physical training outside of mess hall hours… provide some form of nourishment prior to execution.”
Alcaraz didn’t have a full night’s sleep before the exercise and went on the hike on an empty stomach, which could have made him “more susceptible” to heat illness, according to the investigating officer.
The medical report showed that Alcaraz was not dehydrated and had no drugs or alcohol in his body. However, the investigating officer determined Alcaraz might have also been “more susceptible” to heat illness for other reasons. One of those reasons was that Alcaraz’s normal routine had been disrupted while on temporary assignment in the days leading up to his death and he had consumed alcohol while on that trip.
Another Marine who was on that trip with Alcaraz told officials that Alcaraz drank several Long Island iced teas on the overnight stay. After returning to Lejeune, he noticed Alcaraz in the barracks later that evening “drinking water and Pedialyte.”
According to Marine Corps Times, three weeks before his death, Alcaraz had fallen out of a hike but was not treated for heat illness at that time.
1st Lt. Joe Caldwell, a spokesman for II Marine Expeditionary Force said Alcaraz’s death prompted the commanding general of 2nd Marine Division to direct a unit-wide safety stand down. New training materials were developed for commanders. Among the topics covered were: hot and cold weather injuries, safety procedures and operational risk management.
“These products stressed the importance of nutrition as it pertains to preventing heat injuries and also required commanders to develop nutritional plans as part of their operational risk management process for combat conditioning,” Caldwell said.
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