Terrestrial altitude can be classified into five categories. Low altitude is sea level to 5,000 feet. Here, arterial blood is 96 percent saturated with oxygen in most people. Moderate altitude is from 5,000 to 8,000 feet. At these altitudes, arterial blood is greater than 92 percent saturated with oxygen, and effects of altitude are mild and temporary. High altitude extends from 8,000 to 14,000 feet, where arterial blood oxygen saturation ranges from 92 percent down to 80 percent. Altitude illness is common here. Very high altitude is the region from 14,000 to 18,000 feet, where altitude illness is the rule. Areas above 18,000 feet are considered extreme altitudes.
Soldiers deployed to high mountainous elevations require a period of acclimatization before undertaking extensive military operations. The expectation that freshly deployed, unacclimatized troops can go immediately into action is unrealistic, and could be disastrous if the opposing force is acclimatized. Even the physically fit soldier experiences physiological and psychological degradation when thrust into high elevations. Time must be allocated for acclimatization, conditioning, and training of soldiers. Training in mountains of low or medium elevation (5,000 to 8,000 feet) does not require special conditioning and acclimatization procedures. However, some soldiers will have some impairment of operating efficiency at these low altitudes. Above 8,000 feet (high elevation), most unacclimatized soldiers may display some altitude effects. Training should be conducted at progressively higher altitudes, starting at about 8,000 feet and ending at 14,000 feet. Attempts to acclimatize beyond 17,000 feet results in a degradation of the body greater than the benefits gained. The indigenous populations can out-perform even the most acclimatized and physically fit soldier who is brought to this altitude; therefore, employment of the local population may be advantageous.
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