By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD - Soldiers of Alpha Company, 589th Brigade Support Battalion, 41st Fires Brigade, were at Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area Wednesday to refine some essential skills.
Using a tactical water purification system, 28 "water dogs" from the company's fluids platoon converted water from Belton Lake into something potable.
Lake water, suitable for swimming but not for drinking, traveled through hundreds of feet of hoses and tubes - most contained a mobile purification unit the size of a small trailer - and multiple filtration points, including a reverse osmosis chamber.
"On this end," said 1st Lt. Brian Harris, platoon leader, pointing to a 3,000-gallon bag of water at the end of the cycle, "it's better than bottled water and definitely better than tap water."
Essentially, said Staff Sgt. Paul Naccarato, the platoon's senior noncommissioned officer, "we're taking water, which is one of the smallest molecules, and ripping it apart" to put it back together in an ideal form.
The platoon is capable of purifying water continuously and storing 15,000 gallons at a time, by adding trace amounts of chlorine. Its tactical water purification system can support a battalion-sized element and purifies everything from saltwater to wastewater, Naccarato said.
The system is powered by a 60-kilowatt generator. For every 10 gallons of fresh water that enter, he said, about four gallons of potable water come out. For training purposes and due to the drought, both collected waste and potable water were returned to Belton Lake.
The water exercise, which began on Monday, was the first held at Fort Hood since before Sept. 11, 2001, according to information from the battalion.
The return to water purification training signals a shift in garrison focus, said Maj. Corey Woods, 589th Brigade Support Battalion.
"We focused on Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. Because water services are often contracted out in theater, "It hasn't been a training focus."
Slowing deployment cycles give units time to bolster perishable skills, Woods said. Plus, he added, water contractors only are available at "mature," established combat posts, making purification skills necessary, even in modern warfare.
Naccarato ran water purification programs during each of his three deployments to Iraq, he said, at relatively remote forward operating bases.
Raw water sources varied from major rivers to freshly dug wells, he said.
Soldiers were able to construct the mobile purification unit in about four hours this week, Harris said, which is in line with Army standards.
Water isn't as exciting as "bombs and bullets," he said, but it's more important, even in the military.
Spc. Rico Dixon said he's enjoyed working with water during his five years in the Army. "It makes your job really mean something," he said. "It serves a purpose and it's not a bad trade to take into the civilian world."
Contact Colleen Flaherty at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.