Water Dogs Keep It Flowing at Afghan Airfield

Feb. 1, 2008
Four-man team with 173rd Airborne support battalion supplies quality water at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Fenty in eastern Afghanistan

Four-man team with 173rd Airborne support battalion supplies quality water at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Fenty in eastern Afghanistan

By Spc. Gregory Argentieri

The small four-man team of water purification specialists assigned to U.S. Army Company A, 173rd (Airborne) Brigade Support Battalion (BSB) at Jalalabad Airfield at Forward Operating Base Fenty in Afghanistan is responsible for producing more than 40,000 gallons of water every day to ensure the health and well-being of service members, contractors and civilians living here.

Water dog, Pfc. Christopher M. Bullard cleans the floor to prevent mildew in the flush tank hose of the new $1.2 million, 3000-gph ROWPU, Dec. 28, at Forward Operating Base Fenty in eastern Afghanistan
Click here to enlarge image

Also known as the “Water Dogs,” they’re main mission is production of on average 32,500 gallons of non-potable water daily for personal hygiene, sinks and showers, basic sanitation, toilets and urinals, laundry service – plus construction and aircraft maintenance.

Pfc. Bullard checks the water level of the non-potable 42,000-gallon brick and mortar storage tank
Click here to enlarge image

This isn’t to mention another 9,000 gallons of potable water for use by the dining facility to clean and prepare food, purified water for a local coffee shop and clean water for a new restaurant.

“We provide soldiers with the water they need to enjoy many of the creature comforts they have back in the rear while they’re in this deployed environment, and a lot of those creature comforts are taken for granted when you’re on a FOB like Fenty or Bagram where it’s a well established area,” said 1st Lt. Nathan C. Miatech, 24, of Plymouth, Minnesota, USA, 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 non-potable and potable water,” Miatech said.

“They have to grab a couple of water bottles and do field hygiene, scrubbing down their essential areas, and that’s about all they can do.”

The primary water sources on the FOB are two locally constructed wells about 140 feet deep. Two submersible pumps bring raw water up to the surface at a rate of 114 gallons per minute (gpm) and into 3,000-gallon storage bags called “onion skins,” because they look like onions when they’re full of water, as well as into a 42,000-gallon brick and mortar storage container specifically for non potable water.

The raw water coming from the well is dirty and dangerous.

“The water from the well is coming from out on the economy; it can get you really, really sick,” said Pfc. Christopher M. Bullard, 20, from Purcell, Oklahoma, USA, assigned to Company A, 173rd BSB. “I think we’re doing a great job out here keeping everybody safe; making sure no one is getting sick from the water.”

From the onion skins, the raw water is turned into clean potable water with the help of one of the two new $1.2 million, 3,000-gallons per hour (gph) reverse osmosis water purification units (ROWPUs) installed in September that push all the contaminants out of the water via a crossflow semi-permeable membrane filtration process. Previously, the Water Dogs were limited by two 600-gph ROWPUs, and from May through September, the Water Dogs had to work day and night to keep up with the water demand on the FOB.

Once the purified water leaves the ROWPU, it flows into two large round white 5,000-gallon sealed tanks until it’s piped to the dining facility or coffee shop. There are currently two ROWPUs and two 5,000-gallon sealed potable storage tanks at Fenty, and 10 more 5,000-gallon storage tanks are scheduled to be delivered and in place before spring.

“Were going to have 120,000 gallons of potable water storage on the FOB, and in the near future, before the 173rd leaves, you will be taking a shower in potable water. [You] won’t have to worry about the signs that say, ‘non-potable water, do not drink or brush your teeth,’” said Sgt. 1st Class Sean L. Carter, 29, of Jacksonville, FL, platoon sergeant assigned to Company A. “The water you will be showering with is going to be cleaner than the bottle water you drink everyday.”

The biggest challenge the Water Dogs have on Fenty is limited personnel. There are only four Water Dogs, including Carter.

Pfc. Bullard performs one of his three daily water-quality tests at the base coffee shop;
Click here to enlarge image

“My Water Dogs are dedicated, they have yet to complain, ‘Hey, we need time off’; they come in seven days a week and work from morning until night ensuring there is no water shortage on the FOB,” Carter said.

Ensuring there’s a proper balance of chlorine in the water is also very important.

He performs one of his three daily water-quality tests in a shower tent.;
Click here to enlarge image

“Water is a key factor for cooks over at the dining facility, and too much chlorine in the water will brown their vegetables,” Carter 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 too little. Too much chlorine can cause skin irritation.”

The demand for water has increased as the overall 173rd footprint has expanded.

He prepares to start the pumps and air compressors of the new 3,000-gph ROWPU.
Click here to enlarge image

“Our water team is doing a heck of a job. It was hard to keep up with water production, but it has gotten a little easier since we have the two new ROWPUs. We still have a lot of work to do as far as improving the site,” Bullard said.

“My NCOs have done a great job helping me learn more about my job since I’ve been out here.” Weather also poses a challenge for the Water Dogs as the water runs through the system slower as temperature drops.

“Sometimes it brings our production up and sometimes it brings our production down,” said Sgt. Edward D. Haynes, 27, of Fort Pierce, Florida, USA, section sergeant assigned to Company A.

The water purification specialists’ biggest contribution will be making life better for everybody regardless of the challenges.

Author’s Note:

Spc. Gregory Argentieri is with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs detail. Argentieri also shot the photos that illustrate this article.