CAMP GRAYLING, Michigan - Northern Strike 21-2 is underway at Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center, and the most important resource on Earth is front and center of the exercise. Yes, it's H2O.
Water purification specialists assigned to the 1034th Composite Supply Company, 185th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, Iowa Army National Guard, are at Base Camp Hawkeye producing and providing water to all units participating in the Northern Strike exercise.
U.S. Army Sgt. Elizabeth Scheer, the water purification noncommissioned officer in charge of the water point located at Howe's Lake, says choosing an appropriate site is the first step in the process.
"We test a site for total dissolved solids, turbidity and pH levels to ensure we select a suitable site to purify our water," Scheer said. "It's also important to identify a site close to the water where our tactical water purification system (TWPS) can sit. It needs a flat area to operate properly, no more than 10 degrees one way or another."
Next, the eight water purification specialists at Howe's Lake get to work.
"We first emplace the strainer, which receives the water from the source and then feeds into the raw water pump," said Scheer. "From there, the microfiltration pump takes the water from the microfiltration system through the reverse-osmosis process, removing all the impurities and gunk from the water. We then add chemicals to the water to include chlorine to kill and remove any bacteria before we send our water out."
Reverse osmosis is a water purification process that uses a partially permeable membrane to separate ions, unwanted molecules and larger particles from drinking water. Although it may seem like the process can be time-consuming, Scheer says once the TWPS is up and running, they can produce incredible amounts of clean, potable water.
"The TWPS can produce up to 15,000 gallons of water from a freshwater source," said Scheer. "We have four load-handling water tank racks that each hold 2,000 gallons that we use to deliver water across the Northern Strike area of operations. We also have three bladders on-site that hold 3,000 gallons each that we can service our customers' water buffaloes and other small water requests."
Scheer estimated that 30,000 gallons had been distributed across Base Camp Hawkeye and other areas throughout the Northern Strike area, with 100,000 gallons likely to be produced by the end of the exercise.
Besides the obvious life-sustaining purposes of clean water for drinking and cooking, one of the largest needs for bulk, clean water comes from the 126th Quartermaster Company, Illinois Army National Guard.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jason Sears, a shower, laundry and clothing repair noncommissioned officer assigned to the 126th, says the company's need for water is substantial.
"We operate the shower system with a 3,000-gallon bladder and the laundry system with a 3,000 bladder," said Sears. "Doctrinally, we can support 500 Soldiers a day with this amount of water and set-up."
The mobile laundry facility can take a lot of fuel to run and has an initial fill of 460 gallons of water. But it is efficient in other ways.
"This laundry system only disposes 7 gallons of water per load completed," Sears said. "Not only that but the remaining water will be recycled throughout the system itself and refill. We can operate 10 hours before an hour of maintenance is required on this system."
Sears has been a shower, laundry and clothing repair specialist for his entire 11-year career in the National Guard. He says that although the job can be thankless at times, coming to culminating training events such as Northern Strike makes it all worth it.
"You don't really see the appreciation for our craft until you see the morale of the Soldiers on ground change," said Sears. "After hot days and working hard, it is obvious these Soldiers are very appreciative of the services we provide."
Northern Strike is a joint force, multicomponent, multinational exercise to build readiness and enhance interoperability with coalition forces July 31 through Aug. 14.