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Well Drillers Spend Annual Training Honing Skills, Preparing for Missions 
Members of the 247th Engineers (Well Drillers) perform operations cleaning out a well at Stones Ranch Military Reservation in East Lyme. (Photo by: Sgt. 1st Class Debbi Newton State Public Affairs NCO)
Sgt. 1st Class Debbi Newton State Public Affairs NCO 

They have traveled the world bringing potable water to people where ever they go. They have drilled wells in Nicaragua and other Central American countries. They have drilled wells in Iraqi villages and on U.S. and Coalition bases in Afghanistan.

Their efforts have saved lives.

And that may just be what drives the Soldiers of the 247th Engineers (Well Drillers) of the Connecticut Army National Guard.

“We offer clean, potable water to schools and villages that don’t have it or the ability to get it,” said Staff Sgt. Ronald Smith, a section sergeant who has been with the unit for 17 years. A Veteran of many of the unit’s overseas missions and deployments, he explained that many of the countries the unit has gone to have water that is infected with viruses and bacteria. Putting in wells in these areas has helped “reduce the infant mortality rate” in those areas.

While deploying and traveling the world is part of being in the 247th, the 10-person unit spent its annual training this year working on a well it had drilled near the rapeling tower at Stone’s Ranch many years ago.

The well had been intended for use by Soldiers and Airmen using the training facility, but it had never gone operational and needed to be rehabilitated according to detachment commander Sgt. 1st Class Ernesto Rios Soto.

The Soldiers, all heavy equipment operators, some with the well driller additional skill identifier, spent most of the first week of their annual training at the site using the LP12 Army Well Drilling rig to clean out the well. The rig has a 600-foot drilling capacity.

“We push pressurized air into the well to clean the hole,” said Staff Sgt. Devin Cowperthwaite. “The pressurized air will blow the water and sludge up out of the hole. We use super chlorination pumped into the hole and then continue to blow the hole to rid it of the bleach. Once that is done, the medics test the water to see if it is clear of the chlorination and other contaminates. Once they have tested it, the water company will perform follow-on tests before the well is approved for use.”

Smith has been on well drilling missions in Nicaragua, Iraq and Afghanistan, among other places. He was with the unit when they deployed to the U.S. border to assist the Border Patrol in building roads and walls along the Arizona and California borders. He was in Iraq when the unit provided a well to the northern Iraq village of Bezgirtan. The village had been without running water for 18 years.

The Bezgirtan well was the fourth the unit had been tasked with during their 2003 deployment. They began the project on Aug. 25 and completed it 12 days later. The plan had been to drill just over 300 feet, but after drilling only 140 feet, the well was already producing several hundred gallons of water per minute.

Rather than risk the rocks below ground caving in and destroying the well, the unit “called it a hole.”

Unit members also took an interest in the village school, which was in shambles. Most of the windows were broken, there was no running water and the classrooms were full of dirt and broken glass.

The unit asked its supervisors to come take a look at the school and convinced them to help rehabilitate the school as well.

The unit is also capable of providing humanitarian aid at home in the case of natural disasters such as hurricanes or floods.

“We have the ability to rehabilitate existing wells and to drill new wells where needed,” said Smith.

Members of the 247th willingly share their stories of success. They are proud of what they do, whether overseas or at home. They are a close-knit unit and very eager to explain their work to anyone who stops by. They work as a team and share their knowledge with each other as was evident during the mission at Stone’s Ranch.

The two Soldiers running the rig and “tripping out,” or pulling steel from the hole, were doing so for the first time.

Cowperthwaite explained that Spc. Michael Lindia and Spc. Michael Frazer were first timers to this particular phase of well drilling. Fellow unit members watched as the specialists turned wrenches, worked controls and pulled up the first section of steel that connects to the drill bit.

As it came up, other unit members prepared equipment to grab the bottom of the steel and run it out from the rig.

The first time operators and the experienced operators worked together seamlessly to complete the task.

The LP12 Army Well Drilling rig being used by the 247th is a relatively new piece of equipment, not only to the 247th, but also to the Army inventory. Cowperthwaite said the 247th has guys with a great deal of experience in the field of well drilling and that three members of the - Smith, Frazer and Spc. Roberto Falcon - went to Ohio to assist in writing the training manual for the new rig.

Rios Soto expected the unit would complete the Stone’s Ranch well rehabilitation project before the end of the annual training period.

Members of the 247th travel the world bringing potable water to villages in need. This particular mission saw them serve another village - their own.