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Life in the Jungle

Section I. GENERAL

Soldiers must understand that the environment affects everyone. The degree to which soldiers are trained to live and fight in harsh environments will determine their unit's success or failure.

"Jungle fighting is not new to US soldiers, nor does the enemy have a monopoly on jungle know-how. US units adapted well to jungle fighting, and when we operated against the North Vietnamese Army along the Cambodian border we found that they had as much difficulty operating in the area as we did. The prisoners we captured were, as a rule, undernourished, emaciated, and sick with malaria. They stated that almost everyone in their unit had malaria, and many had died from it."

Report, 25th Infantry Division, Republic of Vietnam

There is very little to fear from the jungle environment. Fear itself can be an enemy. Soldiers must be taught to control their fear of the jungle. A man overcome with fear is of little value in any situation. Soldiers in a jungle must learn that the most important thing is to keep their heads and calmly think out any situation.

Many of the stories written about out-of-the-way jungle places were written by writers who went there in search of adventure rather than facts. Practically without exception, these authors exaggerated or invented many of the thrilling experiences they relate. These thrillers are often a product of the author's imagination and are not facts.

Most Americans, especially those raised in cities, are far removed from their pioneer ancestors, and have lost the knack of taking care of themselves under all conditions. It would be foolish to say that, without proper training, they would be in no danger if lost in the jungles of Southeast Asia, South America, or some Pacific island. On the other hand, they would be in just as much danger if lost in the mountains of western Pennsylvania or in other undeveloped regions of our own country. The only difference would be that a man is less likely to panic when he is lost in his homeland than when he is lost abroad.



  I. General

 II. Jungle Hazards

III. Jungle Survival




The discomforts of tropical climates are often exaggerated, but it is true that the heat is more persistent. In regions where the air contains a lot of moisture, the effect of the heat may seem worse than the same temperature in a dry climate. Many people experienced in jungle operations feel that the heat and discomfort in some US cities in the summertime are worse than the climate in the jungle.

Strange as it may seem, there may be more suffering from cold in the tropics than from the heat. Of course, very low temperatures do not occur, but chilly days and nights are common. In some jungles, in winter months, the nights are cold enough to require a wool blanket or poncho liner for sleeping.

Rainfall in many parts of the tropics is much greater than that in most areas of the temperate zones. Tropical downpours usually are followed by clear skies, and in most places the rains are predictable at certain times of the day. Except in those areas where rainfall may be continuous during the rainy season, there are not many days when the sun does not shine part of the time.

People who live in the tropics usually plan their activities so that they are able to stay under shelter during the rainy and hotter portions of the day. After becoming used to it, most tropical dwellers prefer the constant climate of the torrid zones to the frequent weather changes in colder climates.


Malaria-carrying mosquitoes are probably the most harmful of the tropical insects. Soldiers can contract malaria if proper precautions are not taken.

Precautions against malaria include:

  • Taking Dapsone and chloroquineprimaquine
  • Using insect repellent
  • Wearing clothing that covers as much of the body as possible
  • Using nets or screen at every opportunity
  • Avoiding the worst-infested areas when possible

Mosquitoes are most prevalent early at night and just before dawn. Soldiers must be especially cautious at these times. Malaria is more common in populated areas than in uninhabited jungle, so soldiers must also be especially cautious when operating around villages. Mud packs applied to mosquito bites offer some relief from itching.

Wasps and bees may be common in some places, but they will rarely attack unless their nests are disturbed. When a nest is disturbed, the troops must leave the area and reassemble at the last rally point. In case of stings, mud packs are helpful. In some areas, there are tiny bees, called sweatbees, which may collect on exposed parts of the body during dry weather, especially if the body is sweating freely. They are annoying but stingless and will leave when sweating has completely stopped, or they may be scraped off with the hand.

The larger centipedes and scorpions can inflict stings which are painful but not fatal. They like dark places, so it is always advisable to shake out blankets before sleeping at night, and to make sure before dressing that they are not hidden in clothing or shoes. Spiders are commonly found in the jungle. Their bites may be painful, but are rarely serious. Ants can be dangerous to injured men lying on the ground and unable to move. Wounded soldiers should be placed in an area free of ants.

In Southeast Asian jungles, the rice-borer moth of the lowlands collects around lights in great numbers during certain seasons. It is a small, plain-colored moth with a pair of tiny black spots on the wings. It should never be brushed off roughly, as the small barbed hairs of its body may be ground into the skin. This causes a sore, much like a burn, that often takes weeks to heal.


Leeches are common in many jungle areas, particularly throughout most of the Southwest Pacific, Southeast Asia, and the Malay Peninsula. They are found in swampy areas, streams, and moist jungle country. They are not poisonous, but their bites may become infected if not cared for properly. The small wound that they cause may provide a point of entry for the germs which cause tropical ulcers or "jungle sores." Soldiers operating in the jungle should watch for leeches on the body and brush them off before they have had time to bite. When they have taken hold, they should not be pulled off forcibly because part of the leech may remain in the skin. Leeches will release themselves if touched with insect repellent, a moist piece of tobacco, the burning end of a cigarette, a coal from a fire, or a few drops of alcohol.

Straps wrapped around the lower part of the legs (" leech straps") will prevent leeches from crawling up the legs and into the crotch area. Trousers should be securely tucked into the boots.


A soldier in the jungle probably will see very few snakes. When he does see one, the snake most likely will be making every effort to escape.

If a soldier should accidently step on a snake or otherwise disturb a snake, it will probably attempt to bite. The chances of this happening to soldiers traveling along trails or waterways are remote if soldiers are alert and careful. Most jungle areas pose less of a snakebite danger than do the uninhabited areas of New Mexico, Florida, or Texas. This does not mean that soldiers should be careless about the possibility of snakebites, but ordinary precautions against them are enough. Soldiers should be particularly watchful when clearing ground.

Treat all snakebites as poisonous.


Crocodiles and caymans are meat-eating reptiles which live in tropical areas. "Crocodile-infested rivers and swamps" is a catch-phrase often found in stories about the tropics. Asian jungles certainly have their share of crocodiles, but there are few authenticated cases of crocodiles actually attacking humans. Caymans, found in South and Central America, are not likely to attack unless provoked.


In Africa, where lions, leopards, and other flesh-eating animals abound, they are protected from hunters by local laws and live on large preserves. In areas where the beasts are not protected, they are shy and seldom seen. When encountered, they will attempt to escape. All large animals can be dangerous if cornered or suddenly startled at close quarters. This is especially true of females with young. In the jungles of Sumatra, Bali, Borneo, Southeast Asia, and Burma there are tigers, leopards, elephants, and buffalo. Latin America's jungles have the jaguar. Ordinarily, these will not attack a man unless they are cornered or wounded.

Certain jungle animals, such as water buffalo and elephants, have been domesticated by the local people. Soldiers should also avoid these animals. They may appear tame, but this tameness extends only to people the animals are familar with.


Another area of danger is that of poisonous plants and trees. For example, nettles, particularly tree nettles, are one of the dangerous items of vegetation. These nettles have a severe stinging that will quickly educate the victim to recognize the plant. There are ringas trees in Malaysia which affect some people in much the same way as poison oak. The poison ivy and poison sumac of the continental US can cause many of the same type troubles that may be experienced in the jungle. The danger from poisonous plants in the woods of the US eastern seaboard is similar to that of the tropics. Thorny thickets, such as rattan, should be avoided as one would avoid a blackberry patch.

Some of the dangers associated with poisonous vegetation can be avoided by keeping sleeves down and wearing gloves when practical.


The climate in tropical areas and the absence of sanitation facilities increase the chance that soldiers may contract a disease. Disease is fought with good sanitation practices and preventive medicine. In past wars, diseases accounted for a significantly high percentage of casualties.

Before going into a jungle area, leaders must:

  • Make sure immunizations are current.
  • Get soldiers in top physical shape.
  • Instruct soldiers in personal hygiene.

Upon arrival in the jungle area, leaders must:

  • Allow time to adjust (acclimate) to the new environment.
  • Never limit the amount of water soldiers drink. (It is very important to replace the fluids lost through sweating.)
  • Instruct soldiers on the sources of disease. Insects cause malaria, yellow fever, and scrub typhus. Typhoid, dysentery, cholera, and hepatitis are caused by dirty food and contaminated water.


Water is vital in the jungle and is usually easy to find. However, water from natural sources should be considered contaminated. Water purification procedures must be taught to all soldiers. Germs of serious diseases, like dysentery, are found in impure water. Other waterborne diseases, such as blood fluke, are caused by exposure of an open sore to impure water.

Soldiers can prevent waterborne diseases by:

  • Obtaining drinking water from approved engineer water points.
  • Using rainwater; however, rainwater should be collected after it has been raining at least 15 to 30 minutes. This lessens the chances of impurity being washed from the jungle canopy into the water container. Even then the water should be purified.
  • Insuring that all drinking water is purified.
  • Not swimming or bathing in untreated water.
  • Keeping the body fully clothed when crossing water obstacles.


These diseases are caused by poor personal health practices. The jungle environment promotes fungus and bacterial diseases of the skin and warm water immersion skin diseases. Bacteria and fungi are tiny plants which multiply fast under the hot, moist conditions of the jungle. Sweat-soaked skin invites fungus attack. The following are common skin diseases that are caused by long periods of wetness of the skin:

Warm Water Immersion Foot. This disease occurs usually where there are many creeks, streams, and canals to cross, with dry ground in between. The bottoms of the feet become white, wrinkled, and tender. Walking becomes painful.

Chafing. This disease occurs when soldiers must often wade through water up to their waists, and the trousers stay wet for hours. The crotch area becomes red and painful to even the lightest touch.

Most skin diseases are treated by letting the skin dry.

To prevent these diseases, soldiers should:

  • Bathe often, and air- or sun-dry the body as often as possible.
  • Wear clean, dry, loose-fitting clothing whenever possible.
  • Not sleep in wet, dirty clothing. Soldiers should carry one dry set of clothes just for sleeping. Dirty clothing, even if wet, is put on again in the morning. This practice not only fights fungus, bacterial, and warm water immersion diseases but also prevents chills and allows soldiers to rest better.
  • Not wear underwear during wet weather. Underwear dries slower than jungle fatigues, and causes severe chafing
  • Take off boots and message feet as often as possible.
  • Dust feet, socks, and boots with foot powder at every chance.
  • Always carry several pairs of socks and change them frequently.
  • Keep hair cut short.


These result from high temperatures, high humidity, lack of air circulation, and physical exertion. All soldiers must be trained to prevent heat disorders.

Heat injuries are prevented by:

  • Drinking plenty of water.
  • Using extra salt with food and water.
  • Slowing down movement.

NOTE: For more details, see FM 21-10 for field hygiene and sanitation, and FM 21-11 for first aid for soldiers.


Like all other regions of the world, the jungle also has its native inhabitants. Soldiers should be aware that some of these native tribes can be hostile if not treated properly.

There may be occasions, however, when hostile tribes attack without provocation. If they attack, a small force should be able to disperse them.

To prevent a conflict, leaders should insure that their soldiers:

  • Respect the natives' privacy and personal property
  • Observe the local customs and taboos
  • Do not enter a native house without being invited
  • Do not pick fruits or cut trees without permission of their owners
  • Treat the natives as friends




Food of some type is always available in the jungle--in fact, there is hardly a place in the world where food cannot be secured from plants and animals. All animals, birds, reptiles, and many kinds of insects of the jungle are edible. Some animals, such as toads and salamanders, have glands on the skin which should be removed before their meat is eaten. Fruits, flowers, buds, leaves, bark, and often tubers (fleshy plant roots) may be eaten. Fruits eaten by birds and monkeys usually may be eaten by man.

There are various means of preparing and preserving food found in the jungle. Fish, for example, can be cleaned and wrapped in wild banana leaves. This bundle is then tied with string made from bark, placed on a hastily constructed wood griddle, and roasted thoroughly until done. Another method is to roast the bundle of fish underneath a pile of red-hot stones.

Other meats can be roasted in a hollow section of bamboo, about 60 centimeters (2 feet) long. Meat cooked in this manner will not spoil for three or four days if left inside the bamboo stick and sealed.

Yams, taros, yuccas, and wild bananas can be cooked in coals. They taste somewhat like potatoes. Palm hearts can make a refreshing salad, and papaya a delicious dessert.


Jungle shelters are used to protect personnel and equipment from the harsh elements of the jungle. Shelters are necessary while sleeping, planning operations, and protecting sensitive equipment.

When selecting shelter, leaders should:

  • Choose high ground, away from swamps and dry river beds
  • Avoid trails, game tracks, or villages

(See app E for more on shelters.)


Navigation in thick jungle areas is difficult even for the most experienced navigators. Soldiers navigating in the jungle must use various aids. The compass is an obvious aid, but a soldier would never be able to move very fast in the jungle if he had to constantly move along a magnetic azimuth. Movement along a terrain feature, such as a ridgeline, is easier but can be extremely dangerous when establishing a pattern of consistency. A soldier must trust the compass, map, and pace count. A soldier should not keep his eyes riveted on the compass; however, it should be used as a check.

The shadows caused by the sun are an easily observed and accurate aid to direction. Allowances must be made for the gradual displacement of the shadows as the sun moves across the sky.

Other aids to maintaining direction include prominent objects, the course of rivers, prevailing winds, the stars, and the moon. (See app B for more on navigation.)


All movements of animals and men are marked by tracks and signs. Soldiers must learn to read signs left in soft ground, in streambeds, on roads and trails, and near watering places and salt licks. Animals seldom move without a reason; a few fresh tracks supply information about their maker, his direction, and probable intentions.

Animals avoid man. The animals, their tracks, and their behavior can reveal whether or not men are in the area. Jungle fighters can listen to the cries of animals and learn to recognize their alarm calls.

The ability to track and to recognize signs in the jungle are valuable skills. Throughout the soldier's time in the jungle, he should practice these skills. (See app B for more on tracking.)


Before deploying for jungle operations, troops are issued special uniforms and equipment. Some of these items are:


These fatigues are lighter and faster drying than standard fatigues. To provide the best ventilation, the uniform should fit loosely. It should never be starched.


These boots are lighter and faster drying than all-leather boots. Their cleated soles will maintain footing on steep, slippery slopes. The ventilating insoles should be washed in


The insect (mosquito) bar or net should be used any time soldiers sleep in the jungle. Even if conditions do not allow a shelter, the bar can be hung inside the fighting position or from trees or brush. No part of the body should touch the insect net when it is hung, because mosquitoes can bite through the netting. The bar should be tucked or laid loosely, not staked down. Although this piece of equipment is very light, it can be bulky if not folded properly. It should be folded inside warm, soapy water when the situation allows. the poncho as tightly as possible.


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