Water purification is a ‘game changer’ in Tunisia at African Lion 2024

By Maj. Joe LegrosMay 15, 2024

U.S. Army Spc. Ninnette Klinogo with 1st Battalion, 175th Infantry Regiment, Maryland National Guard, cleans the side of a Humvee as part of wash rack operations in Gabes, Tunisia, May 9, 2024. African Lion 2024 marks the 20th anniversary of U.S. Africa Command’s premiere joint exercise led by U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa (SETAF-AF), running from April 19 to May 31 across Ghana, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia, with over 8,100 participants from 27 nations and NATO contingents. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Trevor Seiler)
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – U.S. Army Spc. Ninnette Klinogo with 1st Battalion, 175th Infantry Regiment, Maryland National Guard, cleans the side of a Humvee as part of wash rack operations in Gabes, Tunisia, May 9, 2024. African Lion 2024 marks the 20th anniversary of U.S. Africa Command’s premiere joint exercise led by U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa (SETAF-AF), running from April 19 to May 31 across Ghana, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia, with over 8,100 participants from 27 nations and NATO contingents. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Trevor Seiler) (Photo Credit: Pfc. Trevor Seiler) VIEW ORIGINAL
U.S. Army Spc. Kristopher Hatton with 1st Battalion, 175th Infantry Regiment, Maryland National Guard, pressure-washes a Humvee as part of wash rack operations in Gabes, Tunisia, May 9, 2024. African Lion 2024 marks the 20th anniversary of U.S. Africa Command’s premiere joint exercise led by U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa (SETAF-AF), running from April 19 to May 31 across Ghana, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia, with over 8,100 participants from 27 nations and NATO contingents. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Trevor Seiler)
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – U.S. Army Spc. Kristopher Hatton with 1st Battalion, 175th Infantry Regiment, Maryland National Guard, pressure-washes a Humvee as part of wash rack operations in Gabes, Tunisia, May 9, 2024. African Lion 2024 marks the 20th anniversary of U.S. Africa Command’s premiere joint exercise led by U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa (SETAF-AF), running from April 19 to May 31 across Ghana, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia, with over 8,100 participants from 27 nations and NATO contingents. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Trevor Seiler) (Photo Credit: Pfc. Trevor Seiler) VIEW ORIGINAL
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TUNIS, Tunisia – Perched between Algeria to the west and Libya to the southeast, most of Tunisia’s northern and eastern borders share a coastline with the Mediterranean Sea. Southern Tunisia extends into the barren landscape of the Sahara Desert where water is scarce and sandstorms are frequent.

From April 29 to May 10, 2,500 multinational participants in exercise African Lion 2024 (AL24) called this diverse and mostly dry landscape their home. The exercise saw infantry live-fire training, artillery units firing M777 howitzers and high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS), all while partnering with the Tunisian Armed Forces to build interoperability and readiness.

Aside from bullets, mortars and rockets, one thing all participants also needed was water.

651st Quartermaster Company conducts water purification at African Lion 2024
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – U.S. Army Sgt. Logan Eggleston and Spc. Johnathan Nelson, water purification specialists with the 651st Quartermaster Company, expel water from a hose during a water purification exercise at African Lion 2024 in Gabes, Tunisia, May 2, 2024. African Lion 2024 marks the 20th anniversary of U.S. Africa Command’s premier joint exercise led by U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa (SETAF-AF), running from April 19 to May 31 across Ghana, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia, with over 8,100 participants from 27 nations and NATO contingents. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Trevor Seiler) (Photo Credit: Pfc. Trevor Seiler) VIEW ORIGINAL
651st Quartermaster Company conducts water purification at African Lion 2024
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – U.S. Army Sgt. Jessica Neidhardt, a water purification specialist from the 651st Quartermaster Company, conducts a water purification test alongside a member of the Tunisian Armed Forces during exercise African Lion in Gabes, Tunisia, May 2, 2024. African Lion 2024 marks the 20th anniversary of U.S. Africa Command’s premier joint exercise led by U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa (SETAF-AF), running from April 19 to May 31 across Ghana, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia, with over 8,100 participants from 27 nations and NATO contingents. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Trevor Seiler) (Photo Credit: Pfc. Trevor Seiler) VIEW ORIGINAL

“It’s our first time coming out for African Lion,” said U.S. Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Casey Pilcher, a water purification specialist with the 651st Quartermaster Company (651st QM CO), 814th Transportation Battalion, 652nd Regional Support Group, 364th Expeditionary Sustainment Command (364th ESC). “We are very excited to come to Tunisia and show what our team could do.”

Traveling more than a full day from Evansville, Wyo. the unit was tasked with the vital role of purifying water throughout the exercise. In the process, they also strengthened the partnerships between the U.S. and Tunisia.

“Wash rack operations can negatively impact the limited resource of fresh water in this desert area,” said U.S. Army Maj. Travis Michelena, theater sustainment planner, 79th Theater Sustainment Command, the 364th ESC’s higher headquarters. “This year was a game changer. We’re not even pulling water from underground or wells; it’s coming straight out of the Mediterranean Sea.”

Wash rack operations include the detailed cleaning of equipment and vehicles prior to loading upon a seaborne vessel for shipment back to the country of origin. Considering the size of some vehicles, a significant amount of water must be consumed to accomplish the task.

The members of 651st QM CO are experts in the science of water purification, a skill crucial for survival in any theater of operation. Drawing from their extensive training, these soldiers excel in sourcing water from diverse environmental reservoirs, filtering it to the highest standards, and distributing it for a multitude of purposes.

In Tunisia, where water scarcity has long been a challenge, their expertise took on added significance.

“We use a reverse osmosis water purification unit,” said Pilcher. “Basically, it transforms seawater, even with high salinity levels like the Mediterranean, and converts it into a life-sustaining resource.”

The unit also spent time with Tunisian Armed Forces partners, who utilize a similar purification process, but have not used it during previous exercises. For a huge training event like AL24, it is essential when preventing the depletion of water tables.

651st Quartermaster Company conducts water purification at African Lion 2024
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – U.S. Army Sgt. Jessica Neidhardt, a water purification specialist from the 651st Quartermaster Company, checks the chemical composition of water alongside members of the Tunisian Armed Forces during exercise African Lion 2024 in Gabes, Tunisia, May 2, 2024. African Lion 2024 marks the 20th anniversary of U.S. Africa Command’s premier joint exercise led by U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa (SETAF-AF), running from April 19 to May 31 across Ghana, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia, with over 8,100 participants from 27 nations and NATO contingents. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Trevor Seiler) (Photo Credit: Pfc. Trevor Seiler) VIEW ORIGINAL
651st Quartermaster Company conducts water purification at African Lion 2024
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – U.S. Army Sgt. Levi Dixon, a water purification specialist from the 651st Quartermaster Company, works with the Tunisian Armed Forces during a water purification training exercise at exercise African Lion 2024 in Gabes, Tunisia, May 2, 2024. African Lion 2024 marks the 20th anniversary of U.S. Africa Command’s premier joint exercise led by U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa (SETAF-AF), running from April 19 to May 31 across Ghana, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia, with over 8,100 participants from 27 nations and NATO contingents. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Trevor Seiler) (Photo Credit: Pfc. Trevor Seiler) VIEW ORIGINAL

This breakthrough not only enhances the operational capabilities of both nations. but also fosters goodwill and collaboration on a global scale.

By harnessing the power of seawater purification, the unit mitigates environmental impact while meeting the high demands of military operations. At AL24, this resolved two critical issues. The unit produced drinkable water to reduce reliance upon plastic water bottles, and secondly, the purified water utilized for wash rack operations no longer impacts Tunisia's scarce freshwater resources.

This innovative approach exemplifies the commitment to environmental stewardship and international cooperation.

“One of the best parts about coming to Africa is getting the opportunity to work side-by-side with Tunisian partners," said U.S. Army 1st Lt. David Sneed, commander of the 651st QM CO. "Exercises like African Lion allow us to hone our own skills and techniques, but also take pride in knowing we’ve shared best practices between both nations. This ensures we’re both ready for future challenges."

651st Quartermaster Company conducts water purification at African Lion 2024
U.S. Army Spc. Caleb Vigil, a water purification specialist from the 651st Quartermaster Company, checks the purity level of water gathered from the Mediterranean Sea during an African Lion exercise in Gabes, Tunisia, May 2, 2024. African Lion 2024 marks the 20th anniversary of U.S. Africa Command’s premier joint exercise led by U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa (SETAF-AF), running from April 19 to May 31 across Ghana, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia, with over 8,100 participants from 27 nations and NATO contingents. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Trevor Seiler) (Photo Credit: Pfc. Trevor Seiler) VIEW ORIGINAL

Even though AL24 concluded in Tunisia, the 651st QM CO will stay behind until May 16 to facilitate purified water for cleaning equipment prior to transit. The rest of the exercise continues in other host nations of Morocco, Ghana and Senegal until May 31.

About African Lion

2024 marks the 20th anniversary of U.S. Army Africa Command's premier and largest annual, combined, joint exercise African Lion. This year’s exercise will take place April 19 through May 31 and is hosted across Morocco, Ghana, Senegal and Tunisia with more than 8,100 participants from over 27 nations and contingents from NATO. African Lion 24 focuses on enhancing readiness between the U.S. and partner nation forces. This joint all-domain, multi-component, and multinational exercise, employs a full array of mission capabilities with the goal to strengthen interoperability among participants and set the theater for strategic access.

African Lion content can be found on the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS).

About SETAF-AF

SETAF-AF provides U.S. Africa Command and U.S. Army Europe and Africa a dedicated headquarters to synchronize Army activities in Africa and scalable crisis-response options in Africa and Europe.

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