Top Army water purification unit joins Louisiana National Guard for humanitarian exercise
GONAIVES, Haiti – Last August, members of the 125th Quartermaster Company (Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit), Massachusetts National Guard, travelled to Fort Story, Va., to compete against the top seven Army ROWPUs in the nation – active, Reserve and National Guard inclusive. They won.
Less than a year later they were chosen to deploy to Haiti to put their excellence to a real-world test in the austere climate and geography of Mandrin, a rural community a few miles from the city of Gonaives, where the Louisiana National Guard established the Task Force Bon Voizen headquarters camp.
The basic task force training mission was two-fold: build a school-house, two clinics and a latrine facility, and concurrently execute four separate 10-day humanitarian medical/dental exercises for the citizens of the Artibonite Department, which encompasses the greater Gonaives area.
None of this was possible without clean water to drink, bathe, prepare food and clean equipment. From the beginning of operations April 28 through June 12 (roughly 10 days shy of the overall mission’s projected end-date) the 125th ROWPU produced and purified approximately 440,000 gallons of potable water, and another 100,000 gallons of brine water used to mix concrete for the engineering projects, according to 1st Lt. Danielle Golden, the commander of the 125th’s mission in Haiti.
Her unit’s essential mission to provide and purify water for all task force operations never varies from its 24-7 daily operations. It begins each night around 1 a.m. when Sgt. 1st Class Stanley Martin, the senior enlisted leader for the 125th, gets up to activate the well head so that its water begins to fill the storage bladder.
“First we have to draw our water from the well each night, which takes from 12-14 hours because we only get 1,400 gallons an hour,” explained Martin, who hails from Boston. “After we process all that water, it goes into the 50K bag. Then we do our regular chlorine test to make sure the water quality meets U.S. standards.”
“We do this [check chlorine level] three times a day, because you can get sick if there’s not enough, and you can get diarrhea if there’s too much,” added Golden, who calls Worcester, Mass. home.“So it really has to be monitored.”
The ROWPU’s activities here in Haiti extend beyond just the provision and purification of the well water at task force headquarters. The Soldiers of the 125th also periodically visit local waterways – rivers, lakes and irrigation ditches – to test for suitability should the well fail, or additional water requirements arise. Golden and Martin try to get their new troops, who rotate in for their 15-day annual training requirement, up in the air on a task force helicopter flight to survey the local water spots before they drive out and do their sampling, said Golden.
Another ROWPU mission that satisfies Golden’s desire to “do what I can … to help” – her motivation for joining the National Guard – has worked itself out in a valuable way for local citizens when she and Martin visit area schools to test the purity of the well water at each site. Though located on school grounds, these wells serve all the citizens in each respective community, so having clean water is a health-care issue for more than just the students. Two of the wells were dug by past New Horizons Haiti task forces, said Golden, so she and Martin feel especially invested in the outcome of the tests.
“All three of the schools had very good water, and it felt good to be able to report that,” said Golden.
The 125th’s piece of Task Force Bon Voizen began with a huge challenge, brought about by an initial misunderstanding between the Louisiana National Guard’s advance party and the 125th’s advance party, which included Golden and Martin. The Louisiana leadership didn’t realize that setting up the well head wasn’t a ROWPU task and the ROWPU didn’t realize that this task was mistakenly expected of them, Martin explained.
However the challenge cemented the close relationship that developed between the Guardsmen of both states. From the get-go, they had to work together to accomplish a vital task.
“We learned to set up a well, something that we’d never normally do,” said Martin. “It wasn’t even on our radar,” Golden added.
“But we all did it together,” said Martin. “And now we know we can do it, even though it’s not in our job description.”
“Working with Louisiana was really, really good. We’ve never worked with anyone like them before. They’ve been so supportive,” said Martin.
“I pick Sergeant Major Harvey out of all of them though,” said Golden. “His positive attitude first off … when we got stressed out, and down a little bit, he was like … no problem. Not only that, Louisiana, the way they carry themselves, they’re just so easy to work with. They’re very helpful, and smart too,” said Golden. “All around, they knew what was going on.”
Sgt. Maj. Jerry Harvey, member of the Louisiana advance party, and the mayor of task force headquarters, was equally impressed by the Mass. ROWPU and its leaders.
“I didn’t know what to expect because they were from Massachusetts. But when I met Lieutenant Golden and Sergeant Martin, everything just clicked. They were very professional … with a can-do attitude. We got with them and started working together. It was just amazing how much they knew and how dedicated they were to making the mission work. They were just a pleasure – they didn’t take no for an answer. They’re by far the best ROWPU unit I’ve ever seen,” said Harvey.
“You need help with something, Louisiana was there,” said Martin. “It’s like wow, if you need something – ‘I’ll get if for you,’ they’d say, regardless of your rank.”
Perhaps the camaraderie Golden and Martin developed with Louisiana was a logical extension of the camaraderie they share with each other.
“He [Martin] and I together … we’re a freakin’ dream team,” she told her state’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen Joseph C. Carter, when he visited in early June.
This dream team is a winner.
Task Force Bon Voizen, New Horizons Haiti 2011, is a Commander, U.S. Southern Command sponsored, U.S. Army South conducted, joint foreign military interaction/humanitarian exercise under the command of the Louisiana National Guard. Task Force Bon Voizen is deploying U.S. military engineers and medical professionals to Haiti for training and to provide humanitarian services. Task Force Bon Voizen will build a school, two medical clinics and one latrine facility, as well as staff three medical clinics and one dental clinic between April 28 and June 25 in the Artibonite Department.Please visit: Task Force Bon Voizen on FaceBook http://www.facebook.com/tfbonvoizen for the latest New Horizons Haiti 2011 news and imagery.