News: Water Dogs pump, purify fresh water for parched troops
Story by Sgt. Earnest J. Barnes
PATROL BASE ALCATRAZ, Helmand province, Afghanistan – The Marines and sailors of 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion have spent the majority of their seven-month deployment taking water bottle baths, dumping 20 ounces at a time over their heads to clean themselves. Marines attached to the battalion, however, recently made some changes to the base that not only boost morale in the unit, but also increase the efficiency of the battalion as a whole.
Three water purification specialist Marines with 7th Engineer Support Battalion arrived at the base to set up a system that not only purified drinking water, but also brought some long lost comforts not often seen at the patrol bases.
One of the Marines left after the system, known as the Tactical Water Purification System, was set up, while two remained to maintain the system and support 3rd Recon and 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, which both occupy the base.
Third Recon calls the water purification Marines the “Water Dogs,” a play off of the nickname, “Teufel Hunden” or “Devil Dogs,” which the Marines earned from the German troops during the Battle of Belleau Wood in World War I.
Second Lieutenant Christopher M. Flood, a Ridgefield, Conn., native and 3rd Recon’s logistics officer, said the Marines from 3rd Recon spent the first five months of their deployment taking showers with water bottles or using solar shower bags. The Marines had to hang the solar showers, which are sun-heated water bladders, above their heads for gravity to take hold to pull the water out.
Corporal Noah J. Davidson, a Eugene, Ore., native and a water purification specialist supporting 3rd Recon and 1/6, said showers were not the only thing they set up. They also set up and provide laundry services, which enable the Marines and sailors with the units to wash their clothes on a more regular basis and save on valuable man hours, instead of washing their clothes by hand.
Lieutenant Colonel Travis Homiak, a Vineland, N.J., native and the commanding officer of 3rd Recon, said his Marines spent an average of two hours a week just washing their clothes. This means his battalion spent nearly 500 man hours per week doing laundry. Homiak, a 1994 graduate of the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va., added these types of services give his Marines the opportunity to put their time and attention where it is most important.
“The Marines and sailors from 3rd Recon spent the first few months of the deployment doing laundry in five-gallon buckets with bottled water,” said Flood. “With bulk water capabilities, to include laundry and shower services, the Marines who have just returned from a patrol are able to take a hot shower and have their laundry cleaned.”
Davidson, a 2007 graduate of Hickory High School, said he is glad to be able to provide these services to his fellow Marines, but there is a bit of a challenge when there are only two Marines washing clothes for two battalions. The shear amount of laundry coming into their facility in one day becomes overwhelming with a 24-hour turn-around policy.
“You have to create a system and a logbook and bins,” said Davidson, who joined the Marine Corps in 2007. “I don’t care who you are, one man will lose track of 246 bags of laundry – I don’t care how obsessive compulsive you are.”
According to Davidson, performing these duties with a logbook and bin system, which gives valuable time back to the Marines, is not overly difficult once a system is set in place, but the trick to providing these services in the desert is locating the water source they are going to pull from.
Davidson said it is the Water Dogs’ job to locate shallow water sources and test the water, but if there is no shallow water source, their brothers-in-arms, the U.S. Navy Seabees, send engineers to drill a deep well to draw the water. He added they can pull water from the ocean or a well, as long as it doesn’t have mercury or sulfur in it, water can be purified for showers, laundry, and bulk drinking water.
The Water Dogs pump water from local wells, sending it through the tactical water purification system, and stowing the purified water into large storage bladders for future use.
Third Recon Marines stationed at other patrol bases in the area come to the water lot, where the storage bladders are located, and draw fresh drinking water for the Marines on their bases.
Davidson said there are other methods the Marines can use to get their mission accomplished, and while the Marines with 3rd Recon do not necessarily need the Water Dogs, it is surprising how much a little water can boost morale in the units.
“I call (us) the ‘comfort crew.’ Everything we do deals with the morale of Marines,” said Davidson. “(It lets you) show appreciation for the little things in life, like having clean clothes, being able to take a shower, and knowing the water you are drinking is clean and good to consume.
“I know the Marines do not need us, but I enjoy working with units like 3rd Recon and 1/6 because they appreciate it,” Davidson added. “I’m not here for me; I am here for 3rd Recon and 1/6.”
With this new bulk water producing capability, the logistical requirement of hauling pallets of water throughout the area of operations is no longer needed for the battalions’ elements serving in the Upper Sangin Valley, which frees up space for other mission-essential equipment and supplies, according to Flood.
“The water support technicians have been a huge force multiplier for 3rd Recon Battalion,” said Flood. “They have significantly improved morale and have freed up the logistical footprint, providing support throughout the area of operations.”
The Marines with 7th Engineer Support Battalion supporting 3rd Recon and 1/6 transitioned back to the United States recently and were replaced by Marines from 9th Engineer Support Battalion.
Editor’s Note: Third Reconnaissance Battalion and 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, are assigned to Regimental Combat Team 8 in 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.