Photo Information

Cpl. Anesone Bentley, a driver for Shaker Mobile, Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, unloads boxes of water at a patrol base in northern Marjah, Helmand province, Afghanistan, March 19.

Photo by Sgt. Jesse Stence

Marine bases burst with bottled water

4 Apr 2011 | Sgt. Jesse Stence

In the open desert outside the villages, Helmand province can be as dry as the desert Charlton Heston crawled through in "The Ten Commandments."

But despite the province’s arid climate, the Marines here have little fear of depleting their water supply. The Corps is well-equipped to beat the heat, with battalion and platoon positions bursting with bottled water throughout the battle space.

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicholas Mantel, a corpsman with Regimental Combat Team 1’s Personal Security Detachment, travels with the RCT-1 command staff throughout the province. Mantel, from Highland, Ind., said he’s never been without water for longer than the five-minute walk from the RCT-1 headquarters to the post exchange at Camp Dwyer.

“We go to the patrol bases, and they’ve got water stacked 10 feet high by 12 feet wide,” Mantel said.

Mantel said the application of bottled water goes far beyond what is normal stateside. He uses it for the ramen noodles in his care packages. At patrol bases, he brushes his teeth and showers with it.

According to 1st Lt. Charles Waddell, a logistics officer with RCT-1, the Marine Corps plans for each Marine in Afghanistan to use 15 liters of bottled water per day.

“That's the total amount of water that a Marine is expected to use for personal replenishment as well as hygiene, to include bathing, laundry and position cleaning,” Waddell said. “That number is determined both by doctrine and experience in the theatre. Doctrinally, the planning factor adjusts based on theatre climate: how hot does the theatre get and is the theatre arid or jungle? The hotter and dryer the climate, the more water we plan for. And this is Afghanistan.”

According to Waddell, most of the water comes from government-contracted companies in Dubai. From there, it’s transported to Karachi and trucked by civilian contractors through Pakistan and into Afghanistan, he said.

“Most of RCT-1’s battalions have the ability to order directly from the contracted companies … and those companies routinely resupply the battalion positions,” Waddell said. “Those battalions that don't order from contracted companies are supported via Marine [logistics convoys], primarily Combat Logistics Battalion 3.”

Waddell added that a few remote RCT-1 positions are resupplied by air. In most of these cases, a pallet of water is harnessed to a cargo net and dropped via helicopter, but sometimes, C-130s drop parachuted bundles, he said. However, convoys are used 95 percent of the time because they carry more and require less coordination, he explained.

Some forward operating bases, such as Camp Dwyer, have water purification capability, which provides additional potable water.

According to Clayton Johnson, the Expeditionary Water Packaging System site supervisor here, Camp Dwyer produces 90,000 liters of bottled water per week.

“The water is taken from a well here on camp and processed, via filtration, reverse osmosis and chlorination techniques, before being delivered to us for additional filtration, chlorine removal, and finally packaging in bottles that we blow on site,” said Johnson, who supervises approximately 20 employees.

The employees at the bottling plant work 12-hours shifts. The plant runs 24 hours a day and, generally, six days a week.

“The crew gets Sunday off if all quotas for production and maintenance are met for the week,” Johnson explained.

With the hottest months of the year ahead, the Marines need every liter of bottled water they can get, and fortunately, the patrol bases are bursting with it.

Bottled water is trucked in, processed by the pallet, and sometimes, it quite literally falls from the sky as helicopters zip over the remote desert patrol bases.