By Capt. Murray Shugars, 2nd Battalion, 198th Combined ArmsOctober 1, 2009
CONTINGENCY OPERATING LOCATION Q-WEST, Iraq -- Aggressive efforts spearheaded by Mississippi Guardsmen and civilian contractors to end the water shortage at Contingency Operation Location Q-West have begun to show results.
The mayor cell water operations team and civilian contractors have collaborated successfully since July to increase raw water delivery.
An exceptionally dry summer, coupled with years of drought, caused a water shortage at Q-West. Among the water-saving measures were closing the swimming pool, limiting the water consumption of all residents and vendors, closing non-essential shower units and restricting residents to three-minute combat showers. These conservation measures will continue for the time being, but the water situation improves daily, said Lt. Col. William B. Smith Jr.
"The key to sustaining COB Q-West is our ability to pump water from the Tigris River. This is the most important mayor cell operation," said Smith. "The Q-West water team, comprised of military and contractor personnel lead by Capt. J.J. Hatcher, has done an outstanding job of aggressively attacking the water shortage," said the Hattiesburg, Miss., native.
The operation began with two simultaneous seven-day missions operating from the pump house. One was a maintenance and repair mission for the pump house and Tigris River lift-pumps. The other was a pipeline reconnaissance aimed at cataloging valve boxes and unauthorized taps of three inches or greater. This detailed map assisted Smith with planning future missions.
A third mission involved the Water Team and contractors pulling valve gates to prevent local Iraqis from illegally closing the pipeline, which occurred periodically to divert water to various unauthorized taps. During this mission, the team and contractors also cut a number of unauthorized taps.
A fourth effort provided greater supervision and training of Iraqi workers at the pump house. A five-day pump house mission was central to this effort. Moreover, the water team implemented standard operating procedures for maintenance and daily operational duties of the pump house technicians, translating these into Arabic documents and using an interpreter to ensure understanding.
A fifth mission had the water team and contractors install temporary air vents to relieve air pressure in the line and allow water to flow with less resistance up the long climb from the river to Q-West.
A sixth effort employed the assets and assistance of the 395th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion to install a Tactical Water Distribution System (TWDS) pump about a mile from the base, where the terrain levels in its climb from the Tigris River.
"All these missions, along with recent rains, have combined to increase water flow ten-fold in recent weeks," said Hatcher.
The Mississippians deserve much credit for their efforts to bring water to Q-West, according to the civilian employees.
"First thing I noticed was them agreeing to a seven-day pump house mission for maintenance and evaluation. In five years here, I have never seen a pump house mission longer than three days. As a result of that mission and follow-on missions, the pump house has run more consistently," said Mark Crow, a civil general foreman, who manages support missions off Q-West.
"I like working with National Guard members. The average Guard Soldier is 33 or so years old, has a good amount of civilian work and business experience. Those are important qualities during sustainment operations," said Buddy B. Winborn, facilities supervisor and native of Alma, Ark.
Neither of the water team NCOs had civilian or military training for this kind of mission, but they learned on the job, Hatcher said.
"I love doing this mission, but it has turned out to involve a whole lot more than I expected," said Sgt. James C. Haycraft, water team noncommissioned officer-in-charge of off-post missions. "It's more labor-intensive, and I've learned a lot about plumbing. The water team doesn't just oversee the civilian contractors. We roll up our sleeves and help turn wrenches. This is truly a group effort," said the Brandon, Miss., native.
"When I first got here, I had no experience with plumbing and water treatment, anything. I've learned a lot in the last months from the workers and from hands on experience," said Sgt. Eric S. Pettis of Oxford, Miss., NCOIC for on-base water operations.
They both also acknowledge the importance of building and sustaining good relations with local Iraqis.
"It's great to get to know the locals as well. The farmer who owns the pump house property brings us chai tea, flat bread, and sometimes lamb. He brings the tea in an old, battered pot, and I'm having my wife send a new pot to give him. We also give him steaks and such," said Haycraft.
"This has been a team effort all the way," said Hatcher. "No single group or mission can take credit for improving the water situation. Even the weather played a helpful role."