Trainees test backpack water pouches at Lackland
by James Coburn
LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -About 50 trainees in each of the base's seven basic military training squadrons are being issued backpack water pouches in a yearlong study to compare their health with fellow trainees hydrating from canteens.
"I think everybody intuitively thinks CamelBaks, or a similar backpack hydration system, is the best way to go," said Maj. Rob Passinault, 322nd Training Squadron commander. "However, we've got to support it with the data."
Maj. Gen. Loyd S. "Chip" Utterback, 2nd Air Force commander, has stated he supports a request to have personal hydration systems issued to all trainees. However, before final approval he wanted a larger study to be conducted.
A smaller study conducted in 2004 by the 323rd TRS that compared one flight of trainees wearing hydration backpacks with a flight wearing canteens, overwhelmingly supported the backpack system.
Each backpack holds roughly three canteens of water and allows trainees to easily sip water from a tube while marching or running. It has been found to be extremely difficult to unbutton a canteen and drink from it while marching, and canteens usually are not worn while running. Also, trainees complain that water gets hot quickly in plastic canteens.
Two flights from the 322nd TRS were engaged in a pilot test to work out the kinks before the larger study got under way in the beginning of August.
"I can't wait to see the Air Force go to this," said Staff Sgt. Ronald Coulter, a 322nd TRS military training instructor. He said the pilot test indicated that trainees wearing backpack water pouches were healthier than trainees wearing canteens.
Injuries, both from dehydration and muscle strains, are part of the data in the larger study.
"I've had zero heat-related or dehydration-related incidents" involving trainees wearing the backpacks, Sergeant Coulter said.
Sergeant Coulter said another reason trainees should be issued backpacks is to train them now to be ready for what they will use when they deploy.
Trainees said they like the backpack water pouches, and trainees with canteens say they would rather have the backpacks.
"There is more water in (the backpacks), and the water stays cooler," said Airman Robert Dill, who recently graduated from training.
Airman Dill said the backpacks, which the Airmen get to keep, are easier to carry compared to the canteens, which bounce around on web belts behind the trainees.
"We could run with them, and they didn't bounce around," he said. "That way, we could hydrate while we're running our (physical readiness training)." (Courtesy of Air Force Print News)