Written by Sgt. 1st Class Mary Rose Mittlesteadt
101st Sustainment Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (AA) Public Affairs
Alexandria, LA – Tucked away on the back-side of the Intermediate Staging Base for the Joint Readiness Training Center, based out of Fort Polk, Louisiana, a group of Soldiers known as “water dawgs” are busy operating what could arguably be one of the most important pieces of equipment in the Army’s inventory – the tactical water purification system.
These water dawgs, from the 129th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 101st Airborne Division Sustainment Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), are part of a training rotation at JRTC supporting the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st, and other support assets from the 101st Abn. Div. Sust. Bde. “Lifeliners,” the 101st Airborne Division Artillery, all from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and aviation Soldiers from the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, New York.The training allows for both combat arms and support Soldiers to receive realistic, relevant and rigorous training in an environment where they receive hands-on experience with equipment like the TWPS.
“The TWPS is a force multiplier and invaluable to the Army and its mission,” said Maj. Hank Coleman, the support operations officer for the 129th CSSB. “It allows flexibility to support the forces and allows the military to be self sufficient; as we can to go anywhere for long periods of time and use almost any water source to supply the force.”
Although water purification systems have been around for decades, the TWPS is the newest fielded version, said Coleman.
“It uses multiple ways to purify water, not just reverse osmosis like we used in the past,” he said.
The system is multifaceted and the complex water purification process begins in a creek at the ISB, said Pvt. Emily Hale, a water purification specialist with the 129th CSSB.
“The well water strainer filters out any sticks or small fish from going through the pump,” as she points at a circular shaped container in the creek. Water is pumped through a long hose and into a micro-filter bag to strain out any additional dirt. The water held in the micro-filter bag gets pumped into a 20-foot container that is piped with loud engines and a myriad of filters.
“It comes through and fills the micro-filters; it filters out any suspended solids or turbidity, basically anything in the water you can see,” said Hale as she pointed to 12 vertical pipes.
Once the water makes it through the filters, it gets pushed from a reservoir and into a reverse osmosis process.
“Basically what’s going on there is the water is getting pushed at such a high pressure and is going through semipermeable membranes, which breaks the water apart, taking out any dissolved solids like salt or calcium,” said Hale.
After the water travels through the filters and reverse osmosis process, it then funnels into another purification phase.
From the creek to the holding containers and bags the water is ready for distribution to the Soldiers whenever or wherever they may need to fill up their canteens, clean up or cook dinner.
“One-hundred percent of the water being used to support 2nd BCT, here at JRTC, is coming out of the 129th CSSB’s TWPS and the creek at the ISB,” said Coleman.
Transporting the water to its destination is a simple process. The TWPS operators have a pumping station, similar to a fuel pump, where units can drive their water holding tanks like the 2,000 gallon CWTR, called a hippo, or the 400-gallon water trailer, called a buffalo, and have them filled up.
For the 129th CSSB, training opportunities to support units like the 2nd BCT during its JRTC rotation “is the only time we can stretch our legs and be used as we were intended,” said Coleman.
“Long field exercises show the need for specialized equipment like the TWPS in resupplying the force. Specialized logistics equipment is hard to incorporate into small training exercises; it takes an exercise like a JRTC rotation to see its value,” he said. “Unlike JRTC rotations, when we are conducting small, short training exercises back at home station, it is easy to bring everything we need without having to resupply.”
The Army’s water purification systems have been used all over the world to include supporting the Soldiers in Liberia, West Africa, during the Operation United Assistance to eradicate the Ebola virus disease from the region in the fall of 2014 through the spring of 2015. More recently, this October, a water purification system has been used to produce water for a hospital in Columbia, South Carolina, in response to the historic flooding that created contaminated waterways.
“It saves the taxpayers a lot of money, since we are not paying a contract to transport bottled water,” said Coleman. “One hippo is 2,000 gallons. In comparison, that is a lot of bottled water. We are also reducing a lot of trash from packaging.”