Winter is a hazardous time in many ways. The Army is offering tips to help soldiers stay safe during the coldest months. (Sgt. Adam L. Mathis / Army)
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Private vehicle accidents are the No. 1 killer of soldiers, according to the Army, and no time of the year is more dangerous for driving than winter. In fact, cold temperatures, snowy weather and icy ground create the perfect conditions for all kinds of mishaps.
The Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center's annual Army Safe Winter Campaign lays out some tips for staying accident- and injury-free during the chilliest months of the year.
Here's what soldiers need to know:
1. Vehicles. A well-maintained car is key to avoiding a breakdown on the side of an icy highway. Routine tune-ups are important, but so is switching to engine oil, coolant and windshield wiper fluid that is less likely to freeze as the temperature drops.
Those in snowy areas should invest in winter tires for maximum traction and monitor the tire treads (more than 6/32") and air pressure. The Army also recommends replacing car batteries more than 4½ years old and checking battery cables for corrosion.
Take extra care to watch the road. A deer collision on a frozen road is a recipe for disaster.
2. Home. According to the National Fire Prevention Association, heating equipment is the leading cause of home fire deaths, and nearly half of these deaths occur in December, January and February. Working smoke alarms, an easily accessible fire extinguisher and a family fire escape plan can prevent injuries.
Anything with a heating element — including wood stoves, space heaters and candles — should be set up at least three feet away from anything flammable (bedding, curtains, newspapers) and turned off when the room is unoccupied.
3. Work. Soldiers working in tactical operations or doing outdoor physical training during the winter are especially prone to injury.
"Leaders should continuously check their soldiers and themselves for signs and symptoms of cold-weather injuries," said Sgt. 1st Class Jared Holt, a senior instructor at 10th Mountain Division Light Fighters School at Fort Drum, N.Y.
"Personal cold-weather equipment, including tents, shelters and heaters or stoves, must be kept clean and serviceable."
4. Recreation. More soldiers are injured playing basketball than in combat or training exercises. In 2008 alone, 10,600 soldiers reported basketball-related injuries.
They can decrease the risk with proper stretching, removing tripping hazards from courts and using mouth guards.
Winter hunting also requires extra attention. Cold weather can be tough on firearms, so make sure your weapons are clean and in proper working order.
5. Celebration. "Before heading out for a party or night on the town, agree to a plan, stick to it and make good decisions," said Command Sgt. Maj. Richard D. Stidley of USACR.
An off-post incident involving a private vehicle can still affect soldiers' careers.
USACR command judge advocate Maj. Jennifer Farmer said soldiers found guilty of driving under the influence are subject to civilian law enforcement, as well as punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, from reduction in rank to dishonorable discharge.
Soldiers stopped with an illegal blood-alcohol level will be issued a letter of reprimand that may remain in their personnel file.