Goodwater Guardsmen say Goodbye to Al Asad
A Soldier with the 961st Quartermaster Detachment fills a jar with water for testing at a Freedom Lake, Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Jan. 20. The water is routinely tested to ensure it meets safety standards, although the purified water itself is non-potable. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Kiyoshi C. Freeman)

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq - With Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" playing in the background, Alabama guardsmen watched a slideshow of pictures from their 10-month deployment, which was part of a transfer of authority ceremony here Jan. 23.

A National Guard unit from Goodwater, Ala. - a town named for a local fresh water spring - the 19 Soldiers of the 1207th Quartermaster Detachment were responsible for providing clean, non-potable water at four bases in Anbar province, including Al Asad.

"Clean drinking water is something we all take for granted, and it doesn't just happen," said Lt. Col. Mary E. Abrams, commanding officer, 548th Combat Support Sustainment Brigade, who stressed the importance of the 1207th QM's mission to purify water for Coalition forces in Anbar province.

"The ultimate weapon lives on water," said Sgt. 1st Class Forkpa M. Akoi, water purification noncommissioned officer in charge, 548th CSSB. "Without water, we can't do anything. And (1207th QM) has been very, very much instrumental in providing this life-sustaining commodity."

Since the beginning of their deployment 10 months ago, the 1207 QM has purified approximately nine million gallons of water, Akoi said. Over four million gallons of water came out of Freedom Lake here, a reservoir filled by a natural spring. The water bubbles to the surface along with deposits of sulfur, which produces a very distinct rotten egg smell until it's processed, he said.

This water - after it goes through various filters and a reverse osmosis process - is used by Coalition forces for showers, laundry and DFAC operations, as well as construction purposes, said Sgt. 1st Class Anthony G. Knight, detachment sergeant, 1207th QM, and native of Lineville, Ala.

More importantly, though, the water is used to reduce airborne dust, which lowers visibility and damages sensitive military equipment, he said.

"One of the [1207th QM's] most notable achievements, though, is establishing Iraqi self-sufficiency at the water treatment plant at Camp Mejid," Abrams said, referring to how the unit trained their Iraqi counterparts on water purification operations.

It was this type of flexibility - training Iraqis, setting up operations at Camp Korean Village within 48 hours, working in small two or three man sections - that typified the deployment and made the Soldiers successful, Knight said.

"Not only did we have to do water operations, but some of our Soldiers had to work outside their MOS (job) and stepped up in a big way," he said. "And that accomplished the mission as well."

Looking back, the 1207th QM's greatest challenge during its deployment was working with 14-year old equipment, said 1st Lt. Jessica A. Moore, commanding officer, 1207th QM, from Huntsville, Ala. Four of the detachment's Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Units (ROWPU) were put into a refurbishment program so they would be in good working order for their relief, the 961st Quartermaster Detachment, a reserve unit from McAllen, Texas.

Staff Sgt. Jose S. Villanueva, acting first sergeant, 961st QM, and native of San Antonio, Texas, said he was confident his unit was prepared for their mission and that the 1207th QM had set them up for success.

When asked what he thought of their mission, he said, "I think it (water purification) plays a vital role in today's combat environment. It's necessary for everyday life. Everyone needs water."

Looking back, Knight said, "It was a good experience. I've been in the military for 19 years now, and if I had to do it over again, I'd probably do it the same way."


Story by Spc. Kiyoshi C. Freeman

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Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16