The diet of an average soldier is much like that of an average American. It is not always the best. However, one cannot function for long on a poor diet in the cold and certainly not above 6,000 or 7,000 ft (1,830 or 2,135 m) for any extended period of time. The caloric intake required in this environment, as well as the kind of food received from those calories, is very important. Soldiers can survive on Snickers bars and Top Ramen soup for a few days (which is often the case in short-term military exercises), but for long campaigns troops need to eat a proper diet to avoid early casualties. The rations provided by the U.S. Department of Defense are most adequate, as long as variation for troop morale and the proper daily intake of calories are maintained.
A commander must be aware of the potential medical problems that soldiers face in the cold and at higher elevations. These problems are not hypothetical; they are real casualty producers and killers. History reveals that the cold and high altitude (above 7,000 ft [2,135 m]) produce far more casualties than bullets or any other single cause. Acute mountain sickness, high-altitude cerebral edema, high-altitude pulmonary edema, and frostbite are all potential casualties that are the price of doing business in cold, high places. All medical personnel need to be trained to deal with them, and battalion, regimental, and division surgeons must know how to treat these ailments and conditions. Small-unit leaders and personnel need to know the proper way to recognize symptoms and to react so that they can assist their fellow soldiers and prevent death. Excellent leadership, clothing, equipment, and diet do not in themselves prevent these medically related problems. Specific awareness and treatment of potential medical problems must be maintained by all personnel and planned for well in advance of an operation.
Just as troops can be trained to attack a fortified position (which logic warns against), troops can be trained to become acclimatized and to operate in the cold. However, such training requires masterful and consistent leadership and education. Of the many battalions that have come through the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, the good ones all had strong, knowledgeable, flexible commanders who had plenty of common sense. These