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Providing Clean Water to the Soldier

In the arid environment of Iraq, National Guard units are meeting the Army’s need for the most basic supply of all—clean water.

Water purification units still exist in the military. Although not used as widely as they once were, water purification units still can provide potable water within a theater of operations. Drinking water—often provided in the form of bottled water—is the most important use of potable water, but showers, laundries, and dining facilities also need a lot. At Logistics Support Area (LSA) Anaconda in Balad, Iraq, the 641st Quartermaster Detachment teamed up with the 909th Quartermaster Detachment to purify water and with the 610th Quartermaster Company to distribute the resulting clean water. All of these units are Army National Guard units: the 641st from Ohio, the 909th from Guam, and the 610th from the Virgin Islands.

On arrival, the 641st and 909th were thrilled to have a mission for which they had trained back home. They immediately went to work purifying as much water as they could. However, the condition of the site and equipment at LSA Anaconda was not what they had expected. The water site at LSA Anaconda was located along the fence line and completely open. The ground was muddy and saturated with water, causing some equipment to sink and lean to one side. To resolve these problems, an engineering company was contracted to dig up the mess and lay a solid base of gravel that would help disperse the water that constantly drained out of the reverse osmosis water purification units. To provide force protection, T-walls were placed along the fence. The units’ mechanics then began the long and strenuous job of repairing equipment to bring it to the proper Army standards.

Outside the fence, a small berm separated LSA Anaconda and a manmade concrete canal that branched off the Tigris River. The berm was beginning to erode and wash down into the water, which caused more problems with the water purification equipment as it tried to filter and clean the dirty water. So another contract was set to level the berm and lay a gravel base to prevent further erosion.

While all the site improvements were being made, the 641st and 909th Quartermaster Detachments continued to purify water. During the winter months of 2005 to 2006, the temperature of the water dropped to near freezing. At these low temperatures, the civilian contractors had trouble meeting the demand for water supply, so they called on the military to boost production. Operating with two shifts running 12 hours each, the 641st and 909th produced over 5 million gallons of water in less than 3 weeks. The maintenance section continued to improve the water purification equipment despite the aggressive production schedule.


From the beginning, the detachments not only operated at LSA Anaconda but also sent four separate teams to forward operating bases (FOBs). All of the Soldiers on each FOB relied on the small water purification team to provide them water for showers and food. After a long day outside the wire, these warfighters came back to the FOB looking for a shower and hot food. Without fresh, potable water, they would have been disappointed and these basic needs would not have been met.

Some teams at these FOBs purified water from streams, while some purified water from a well. They had to maintain water purification equipment themselves, or wait until a mechanic could be sent from LSA Anaconda. Because of the remote locations of some of the FOBs, it sometimes took several days to send supplies or mechanical help. Some FOBs also were more susceptible to attacks from insurgents. Improvements to water sites at these FOBs therefore were a must for the Soldiers’ welfare. HESCO barriers and T-walls were put up to protect equipment and water bags, and bunkers were erected to provide protection for personnel. Some FOBs even consolidated their U.S. and Coalition Forces areas, giving the rest of the FOB to the new Iraqi Army. In these cases, the water site was located in the Iraqi Army section of the FOB and the water purification team had to learn to deal with the Iraqi Army and the language barrier.

The 641st and 909th Quartermaster Detachments produced over 62 million gallons of potable water for LSA Anaconda and all remote locations. However, civilian contractors slowly are assuming the entire water operation at LSA Anaconda and even at a few of the FOBs. The ultimate goal is to let civilian contractors purify all the water.
ALOG

First Lieutenant Michael P. Ketcham, OHARNG, was the Water Purification Platoon Leader for the 641st Quartermaster Detachment at Logistics Support Area Anaconda in Balad, Iraq. He has a B.S. degree in accountancy from Wright State University and is a graduate of the Quartermaster Officer Basic Course.