15th MEU News

MSSG-15 offers 'pure' humanitarian assistance

8 Apr 2003 | SSgt. Robert Knoll 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Using some of their unique capabilities, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) recently assisted Iraqi citizens get one of their most precious resources -- water.

In a city without an abundant source of fresh water for more than two weeks, a detachment of Marines from the MEU Service Support Group 15 has been purifying thousands of gallons of water from the Euphrates River for hundreds of An Nasiriyah residents.

The small detachment of Marines arrived late in the evening on April 3, at a run-down amusement park on the bank of the Euphrates River. The Marines spent all night setting up two Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Units also known as ROWPUs. These machines are able to take nearly any water supply, including salt water, and turn it into extremely clean drinking water, which is in short supply for the people of Southern Iraq.

Water and power services were stopped soon after the fighting began so many residents began getting desperate for clean water. According to some of the local residents, many had begun taking unpurified water directly from the rivers and canals.

"I didn?t know what to think at first," said 1st Lt. August Immel about the Iraqi citizens. "But they're all very friendly and very appreciative."

He said that his Marines have been able to overcome the language barrier by using simple sign language and with the assistance of translators.

Corporal Deshaun Casey, an Arabic translator, understood a lot of the residents? concerns. He said when the detachment first arrived, some of the local residents wanted the Marines to talk to the engineers and city officials to get the power and water treatment plants running again. Those concerns were passed through the appropriate civil affairs channels and are being addressed.

Although the detachment is trained to treat water in many different scenarios, they had a small setback when setting up their equipment, according to Sgt. Jonathan Chesnutt, engineer, MSSG-15. Because the river's water level was so far below the equipment, pumping the water to the ROWPU was a challenge. They quickly diagnosed the problem and decided that a smaller pump with more torque could pull the water more efficiently.

When working at full capacity, the ROWPU is able to make about 600 gallons of water per hour and by mid morning, they had made more than 6000 gallons of water for local residents. According to Immel, water was being dispensed as fast as it was being purified. By the end of the day, the MSSG-15 Marines had dispensed more than 10,000 gallons.

The residents came in large groups and fought intense heat and dusty conditions to get their share of the freshly purified water. Some came with just a couple of small bottles while others carried large pails and drinking coolers on carts.

"They get pretty rowdy sometimes," Casey said. The residents are constantly jockeying for position to be the first in line to get water.

Although the Marines were assisting the local people, their priority still remains with the Marines and their water requirements. The Marines working the ROWPU always keep at least 1,500 gallons of water around just for the Marines.

"My [Devil Dogs] deserve all the credit," Immel said about his Marines' performance. "It's our mission and we enjoy it."

15th Marine Expeditionary Unit