By Spc. Gregory ArgentieriJanuary 15, 2008
JALALABAD AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (Army News Service, Jan. 15, 2008) -- A four-man team of water purification specialists assigned to Company A, 173rd Brigade Support Battalion oversees the production of more than 40,000 gallons of water a day for the those living at forward operating base Fenty.
The "Water Dogs" main mission is the daily creation of about 32,500 gallons of non-potable water for personal hygiene; sinks and showers; basic sanitation; toilets and urinals; laundry service; construction and aircraft maintenance. The team is also responsible for generating an additional 9,000 gallons of potable water for use by the dining facility, a local coffee shop and a new restaurant.
"We provide Soldiers in this deployed environment with clean water so they may enjoy many of the same creature comforts available to them in the rear," said 1st Lt. Nathan C. Miatech, a platoon leader assigned to Company A, 173rd BSB.
"A lot of the Soldiers forward appreciate what my Water Dogs do because they don't have a whole lot of clean water available," the lieutenant said. "They have to grab a couple of water bottles and do field hygiene, and that's about all they can do."
The primary water sources at FOB Fenty are two wells. Two submersible pumps bring water to the surface and dump it into a 42,000-gallon brick and mortar storage container as well as 3,000-gallon storage bags called "onion skins." But the raw water coming from the well is both dirty and dangerous, said Pfc. Christopher M. Bullard, Company A, 173rd BSB.
"The water from the well can get you really, really sick," he said. "But I think we're doing a great job out of here keeping everybody safe and making sure no one is getting sick from the water."
Pfc. Bullard and his fellow "Water Dogs" ensure the water in the "onion skins" is pumped through one of the two new $1.2 million dollar reverse osmosis water purification units that were installed in September. The units remove contaminants from about 3,000 gallons of water per hour, making it safe to drink and cook with. The purified water is stored in tanks until it's needed for use in the dining facility or coffee shop.
The Water Dog team also ensures the water it is treated with the proper amount of chlorine, said Sgt. 1st Class Sean L. Carter.
"Water is a key factor for cooks over at the dining facility, and too much chlorine in the water will brown their vegetables," he said. "We go around three times a day, wherever there's running water from any of the pipelines, to check to ensure the water is properly chlorinated - not too much and not to little. Too much chlorine can cause skin irritation and cause you to break out in a rash or even hives."
The demand for water at the base has increased as the overall 173rd footprint has expanded. So later this year, the base will add additional water storage tanks, which will increase the amount of clean water that can be processed and stored each day by the Water Dogs, said Sgt. 1st Class Carter.
"Were going to have about 120,000 gallons of potable water storage on the base, and in the near future, before the 173rd leaves, you will be taking a shower in potable water," he said. "You won't have to worry about the signs that say, 'non-potable water, do not drink or brush your teeth.' The water you will be showering with is going to be cleaner than the bottled water you drink everyday."
Perhaps the biggest challenge the Water Dogs face have on FOB Fenty is limited personnel. There are only four Water Dogs. But Sgt. 1st Class Carter said the team presses on selflessly with the mission.
"My Water Dogs are dedicated, and they have yet to complain about needing time off," he said. "They come in seven days a week and work from morning until night to ensure there is always water on the FOB."
Pfc. Bullard says the going is sometimes tough, but things are getting better as the team learns the ropes and as they learn more about their job.
"Our water team is doing a heck of a job," he said. "It was hard to keep up with water production at first, but it has gotten a little easier since we have the two new purification units. We still have a lot of work to do as far as improving the site. And my non-commissioned officers have done a great job helping me learn more about my job since I've been out here."