There are many resources needed to sustain a military unit, but one of them towers above all others in importance; clean water. This fact wasn't lost on the "Roughryder" water purification specialists of A Company, 125th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, as they trained with the Tactical Water Purification System during their battalion's 10-day field training exercise at McGregor Range, N.M., May 12-21. Taking up shop at the range's waste water treatment facility, the crew worked on the crucial practice of turning bleak water into clean water.
Spc. Benny Aydelotte, a water purification specialist with the Roughryders, said working with the newest version of the TWPS is a bigger responsibility than just supporting his fellow Soldiers with clean water.
"Because this system is so new," said Aydelotte, "our logs (records) are important to provide feedback to both the Army and the manufacturer in order to further develop the system."
The process of turning sullied water into usable water starts with the manual testing of water found at a proposed source. With the use of an Ultameter, an electronic analyzation tool, Soldiers can find the sample's current pH level, temperature, and amount of total dissolved solids, or TDS. All are considered when deciding a water source is worth using and processing through the TWPS, or moving on to a better location.
If a source is deemed workable, depending on the conditions, a variable array of mechanisms can be used as accessories to augment the TWPS. In an arctic setting for example, an ice intake strainer would be used in the beginning stages of extraction, while heat blankets would be used on systems and hoses throughout the process to prevent refreezing. In the case of ocean water, drilling is done beyond the tide line and a special initial filter is used to catch microscopic particles, such as sand, before the water enters the purification process. Depending on the level of contamination, Roughryder Soldiers said the system can even purify water affected in nuclear, biological, and chemical environments as the system is equipped with an NBC-purposed filter to be used when necessary.
Once water enters the main phases of the TWPS, it's shuttled through a series of processes powered by reverse osmosis, and is treated with a miniscule amount of chlorine (two parts per one million parts of water,) which is lessened further in post-TWPS processing. As per Army regulation, Soldiers retest the water with the Ultameter and if it passes, preventative medicine personnel come in and test again. If it then makes the grade, only then is it deemed distributable. Aydelotte said in an opportune setting, one TWPS and a water filtration team can process 15,000 gallons of clean water in ten hours. He's seen the system in action while deployed to Afghanistan with the 710th BSB, 10th Mountain Division, and said the training he and his fellow Roughryders received at McGregor was a good way to not only practice purification by the book, but to take those book standards and adjust them accordingly to succeed in imperfect scenarios like he's seen in Southwest Asia.
"In Advanced Individual Training we're taught how to do things in perfect conditions," said Aydelotte. "This training allows us to work in not so perfect conditions and forces us to think outside the box."
He added that the art of not only water purification, but distribution in theater is tricky as forward operating bases are not always near clean water sources. Regardless of the mission of the Soldiers which units like the Roughriders serve, it takes a creative team of experts to get clean water to them, and failure in such a vital task is not an option.
"Without a 'team,' this can't happen," said Aydelotte. "There's a lot of skill sets out here and one Soldier can't do it alone. We're up to the task because history has shown that bad water has destroyed more armies than combat injuries."