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It?s a lot of teamwork and responsibility June 18, 2006 as Sgt. Mark A. Berry and Lance Cpl. Perry R. Schultz run the reverse osmosis water purification unit at Blue Diamond just outside of Ramadi. Berry, a 28-year-old native of Dallas, and his two Marines here utilize the system to produce 15,000 to 18,000 gallons of cleaned, purified and chlorinated water every day for Iraqi Security Forces. Without the water, the ISF would be severely limited in their ability to prepare food, shower and otherwise survive as they conduct missions in the region.

Photo by Cpl. Daniel J. Redding

Marine Corps water purification team keeps Iraqis in the fight in Ramadi

21 Jun 2006 | Cpl. Daniel J. Redding

With temperatures of 110 degrees Fahrenheit and higher becoming the norm in Iraq, the need for water becomes more apparent daily.

For Iraqi soldiers at Camp Blue Diamond in the city of Ramadi, that necessity is being met by three U.S. Marines and one reverse osmosis water purification system.

Called ROWPU for short, the Marines from Combat Logistics Battalion 5 have been pumping out the critical resource here since April, producing between 15,000 and 18,000 gallons of potable water per day.

With the ROWPU system, the Marines are supplying Iraqi Security Forces with water for drinking, showering and cooking, said Sgt. Mark A. Berry, in charge of the system here.

Without the water, operational activity by the Iraqi Security Forces here would be greatly hindered, said 1st Lt. Blaise McFadden, a Marine logistics liaison officer for the military transition team partnered with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division.

The reverse osmosis purification process works as water is pumped with intense pressure through a semi-permeable membrane, a filter, that allows the fluid that is being purified to pass through it, while rejecting the contaminants that remain. As some of the fluid passes through the membrane, the rest continues downstream, sweeping the rejected particles away from the membrane.

The Marines add chlorine as the final disinfecting step.

If the system here wasn't operational, a daily supply of water would have to be brought via convoys from Camp Ramadi, meaning more time on the roads of one of the most dangerous cities in the world, said Maj. Wesley A. Frasard, a Marine logistics advisor to the 7th Iraqi Army Division. 

"Without it, we're focused on water, vice conducting our mission, which is to ... coach the (7th Iraqi Army Division)," Frasard said.

Berry said regular osmosis is water diffusing from an area of greater concentration to an area of lesser concentration. The ROWPU is based on the concept of reverse osmosis, which means it uses a great deal of pressure to force water from an area of lower concentration to an area of greater concentration.

Berry, who has worked with the system off and on for almost a decade, said the water produced by the ROWPU, which can purify fresh and salt water, is the same quality as civilian bottled water.

Many of the Iraqi soldiers here aren't aware of the work done by the Marines, but they know that without the consistent water supply, they would be in serious trouble, said Pvt. Ali, a soldier with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division

"To be honest, only a handful of Iraqi officers here even know that we have a ROWPU site that produces enough water to meet all their requirements," said Frasard, a 39-year-old native of St. Clair Shores, Mich.

Frasard said the lack of awareness is likely due in part to the Marines failure to fully inform the ISF of the "important fact that Marines provide that service to them." He said the future of the Iraqis' ability to produce their own water is to utilize the ROWPU system to "bridge the gap between Marines producing the water and when the Iraqi water plant comes on line."

Years ago, the plant at Blue Diamond supplied water to all the facilities and forces that were based here. Now, it is being given new life, with a goal of supplying ISF here in a few months.

The plant, having fallen into disrepair from neglect, is being repaired, rebuilt and cleaned at a cost of more than $100,000.

A senior Iraqi logistics officer with the 7th Iraqi Army Division said the ROWPU system is just one more way that Americans are supporting Iraqi Forces as they work together to create an independent Iraqi army.

For McFadden and the others, the benefit of having an operational ROWPU system comes down to one critical fact: "If we don't have water, we can't do our mission. If one of the (forward operating bases) runs out of water, they don't patrol that day."

Having a ROWPU unit to meet this critical need enhances the combat readiness of the ISF personnel in the region, said McFadden, a 25-year-old native of Redmond, Wash.

"You can stick them anywhere, and you can make water from anything," he said.

Email Cpl. Redding at daniel.redding@cssemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil.
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