Cpl. Amanda Morrissey
Spc. Benjamin Sites, a preventative medicine specialist with Company C, 3rd Brigade Combat Team Support Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division Preventative Medicine team, prepares to take water samples from containers used to store water for the Soldiers' use at Patrol Base Olson. The Preventative Medicine team visits several Coalition Force posts to perform quality assurance checks on the water, food, and environment to ensure the health of deployed Soldiers.

SAMARRA, Iraq - Its early morning at Patrol Base Olson. Soldiers here wake up and start to get ready for another day as they head for the showers, hygiene kits in hand. They clean up, shave, and search out that first vital cup of caffeine, their minds focused on the tasks ahead of them. They don't give a thought where the water they're using came from.

Located on the patrol base is a Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit (ROWPU), a machine that stands between Soldiers and a silent enemy in the continual fight against bacteria and disease in order to ensure troops remain capable of performing their jobs. Without it, they would hardly ever have the chance to get clean.

"It [the ROWPU] provides all the water that comes into contact with human skin, such as in the showers and at hand washing stations, as well as for cleaning in the dining facility," said Sgt. William Campbell, a water purification specialist with F Company, 82nd Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.

The ROWPU system uses raw water taken from the Tigris River, and then puts it through four different filtration processes. The filtered water is then treated with chlorine to sterilize it in the final stage of purification before it is piped to containers that stores the water for Soldiers' use.

PB Olson is also a regular stopping point for Preventative Medicine team from C Company, 82nd Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.

The team performs a base camp assessment there once a month, and an important part of that assessment is testing the water for contamination that would get the Soldiers sick.

"Clean water is really important on these installations, especially in the hot weather when Soldiers must shower more frequently," said 1st Lt. Samantha Rieger, an environmental science officer with the Preventative Medicine team. "Any food or water contamination has the potential to take out an entire fighting force."

Rieger looks for visible debris floating in the water, and gathers samples in small vials to test for contaminants and chlorine levels. She also examines the ROWPU as a part of the monthly inspection, checking pipes and water containers for possible damages.

Campbell operates the ROWPU for about 20 hours a day, with four hours set aside for cleaning and maintenance. It produces approximately 600 gallons of water per hour, and Campbell makes sure there are at least two days worth of water available at all times.

"We try to stay on top of things [with production and maintenance]. If we don't, a lot of things can go wrong," Campbell said. The two-day supply gives him a window to repair any problems before the Soldiers run out of water.

One unexpected maintenance dilemma Campbell faces with the ROWPU is damages caused by mortar attacks. Recently, mortars damaged the pump in the river, as well as a water storage container, Campbell said.

"That [the mortars] presented a lot of issues I didn't think I'd have to deal with," Campbell said.

Despite the mortar issue, Campbell gets satisfaction out of helping his fellow Soldiers. Campbell does not have much call for his expertise when he's back in the United States, so it's only on deployments that he gets the opportunity to actually use his skills.

"It's an interesting job, and one that provides a vital function for anyone deployed," said Campbell.

Page last updated Thu May 3rd, 2012 at 12:57