LOHATLA, South Africa -- Spc. Matthew Ledford is a survivalist. In his spare time, he often hunts, hikes through the wilderness and studies how to live off the land.

So when he got the chance to practice finding water in a parched region of western South Africa during a bushcraft lesson on Friday at the Shared Accord exercise, he jumped right in.

"I like to learn how to use the land to my advantage," said Ledford, 23, of Vale, North Carolina. "It's definitely good knowledge because you never know when you're going to be put into a situation where you might have to use it."

Ledford and more than 230 Soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division's 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment were taught the local survival tips by South African Army soldiers as part of the first portion of the two-week exercise.

The bilateral exercise, which ends August 3, is held annually at different African locations. This year, it is taking place at the South African Army Combat Training Center, which is located deep in dry bushland and records about 10 inches of rainfall per year.

In one section of the desolate area, Ledford and his platoon gathered around South African Army Staff Sgt. D.C. Nkosi to learn how to use nature to get water. She then allowed the Soldiers to practice the various methods.

One of the methods for obtaining water involved a tree branch and a plastic bag. Nkosi taught Soldiers the following steps:

1. Find a green, leafy tree. Snap one of the tree branches to make sure no milky substance comes out. If there is milk, the water could be poisonous.

2. If the branch looks fine, cover the plastic bag on a portion of green leaves and tie the bag to the branch.

3. As the sun hits the branch, the leaves will produce condensation and water will stick to the inside of the bag. The condensation will then flow to the lowest point of the bag.

Another method also involved harvesting condensation from leaves, but this time using a hole, a plastic bottle and plastic sheet:

1. Dig a hole about a foot deep.

2. Gather small green, leafy branches from a nearby tree.

3. Cut a plastic bottle in half and place it in the middle of the hole. Then place the leafy branches around the bottle.

4. Lay the plastic sheet over the entire hole and place rocks or something heavy around the perimeter of the hole so it does not move.

5. Position small rocks in the middle of the plastic sheet, so it dips slightly toward the plastic bottle.
As in the first method, heat from the sun will cause water from the leaves to evaporate and produce condensation, which will slowly drip into the bottle.

"Finding tricks and methods of creating your own water is very important," said Staff Sgt. Matthew England, who took part in the lesson. "It can be between life and death."

When Soldiers deploy, he noted, these tips could easily be replicated in another country. "Everything we learn out here on how to get water is really key to survivability and the function of your unit," said England, 27, of Highlands Ranch, Colorado.

After a day or so, a few sips of water can accumulate from either method. Since about two liters of water is recommended for a person to drink each day, one should also seek other ways of staying hydrated.

Nkosi told the Soldiers that wild animals can often lead them to water sources. In the morning, she said, someone can listen out for the sounds of baboons, which live in the area. If they hear them, head toward their direction.

"You follow them and you will definitely get water," she said.

Water may also be discovered from an underground source. Along a dry river bed, for example, you can look out for a low spot where water may have collected. After a few minutes of digging in that spot, water will come out, she said.

If there's no water in sight, Soldiers can find a small pebble and place it under their tongue. This activates the salivary glands to produce saliva that will keep their mouth wet until they can find water.

"You just put it under your tongue and you carry on," Nkosi told the Soldiers. "You won't be as thirsty."

To conserve water in their bodies, she added, Soldiers can also wear long sleeves and not expose any skin to the sun, as well as not be outside during the hottest parts of the day.

As they listened, Ledford and other Soldiers wrote down the tips, which could one day prove lifesaving in a real-life survival situation.

"It's probably unlikely but there's always a small chance," he said.