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Drink up: Airmen train to purify warfighter water

Tech. Sgt. Roshia Johari, 554th RED HORSE NCO in charge of water and fuels systems maintenance contingency training, uses an ultrameter to measure the total dissolved solids to test the quality of a water source June 9, 2015, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. The Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit’s purification process starts with finding a viable water source, which could be fresh, brackish or saltwater. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua Smoot/Released)

Tech. Sgt. Roshia Johari, 554th RED HORSE NCO in charge of water and fuels systems maintenance contingency training, uses an ultrameter to measure the total dissolved solids to test the quality of a water source June 9, 2015, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. The Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit’s purification process starts with finding a viable water source, which could be fresh, brackish or saltwater. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua Smoot/Released)

Tech. Sgt. Roshia Johari, 554th RED HORSE NCO in charge of water fuels systems maintenance contingency training, uses a extraction tool to pull elements from their vessels on a Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit June 9, 2015, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.  554th RHS Airmen who are Pacific Air Forces Command Silver Flag instructors train service members from Air Force bases, other military branches and different nations once a month on how to properly use the unit. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua Smoot/Released)

Tech. Sgt. Roshia Johari, 554th RED HORSE NCO in charge of water fuels systems maintenance contingency training, uses a extraction tool to pull elements from their vessels on a Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit June 9, 2015, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. 554th RHS Airmen who are Pacific Air Forces Command Silver Flag instructors train service members from Air Force bases, other military branches and different nations once a month on how to properly use the unit. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua Smoot/Released)

Tech. Sgt. Roshia Johari, 554th RED HORSE NCO in charge of water fuels systems maintenance contingency training, uses a element extraction tool to pull elements from their vessels on a Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit June 9, 2015, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. At Andersen Air Force Base, Airmen are trained to be able to turn untested water into potable H2O using the ROWPU. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua Smoot/Released)

Tech. Sgt. Roshia Johari, 554th RED HORSE NCO in charge of water fuels systems maintenance contingency training, uses a element extraction tool to pull elements from their vessels on a Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit June 9, 2015, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. At Andersen Air Force Base, Airmen are trained to be able to turn untested water into potable H2O using the ROWPU. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua Smoot/Released)

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- Water is the essence of life and likewise essential to support any military operation.

At Andersen Air Force Base, specially trained Airmen are able to turn untested water into potable H2O.

554th RED HORSE Squadron Airmen who are Pacific Air Forces Command Silver Flag instructors train service members from Air Force bases, other military branches and different nations once a month on how to properly use the unit known as a Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit 1500 (ROWPU 1500).

"(During Silver Flag) learning how to use the ROWPU is important because Airmen, particularly water and fuels systems maintainers, possess the organic capability to produce, store and establish a potable water source for self-sustainment and support purposes," said Tech. Sgt. Roshia Johari, 554th RED HORSE NCO in charge of water and fuels systems maintenance contingency training.

The purification process starts with detecting a viable water source, which can be fresh, brackish or even saltwater. As soon as a water source is established, crews connect two raw water pumps that push water from the source to the ROWPU 1500.  The water then goes through three types of filtration: the first stage is a four-layer multimedia filter, the second stage uses a bag filter and the third stage uses eight reverse osmosis elements.

As Airmen push water through the filtration process, they add functional chemicals to purify and disinfect the water. After the water has left the last stage of filtration from the reverse osmosis elements, the newly potable water is tested by the 36th Medical Operations Squadron Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight technicians, who verify the water is safe to consume. When the water is deemed safe, it is then stored and utilized for drinking, personal hygiene, sanitation, food preparation or medical support in an expeditionary environment.

Since most water on Guam is considered clear water, the ROWPU 1500 is used primarily for training purposes. Even though the water is considered fresh, it isn't considered potable until it has been treated through the ROWPU.

The ROWPU's "1500" designator stands for the machine's ability to purify 1,500 gallons of water per hour if pulling from a salt water source. The cleaner the source is, the more potable water the ROWPU can produce per hour, Johari said. If filtering fresh water, the ROWPU can produce up to 2,200 gallons of potable water per hour.

In addition to filtering out selenium, iron, magnesium and chloride from water sources, the ROWPU also has the capability to filter out nuclear, biological and chemical contaminants by installing additional deionization cartridges. During the disaster relief effort of Operation Tomodachi following the 2011 earthquake in Japan, U.S. military units utilized ROWPUs to cleanse water contaminated by radiation.

A minimum of two Airmen are needed to operate the ROWPU. With proper training and experience, the purification process can take as little as an hour to complete.

The ROWPU can be considered a vital asset to deployed troops or anyone in a location where clean water is scarce.

"ROWPU operations are vital, because we cannot survive without water," said Master Sgt. Brian DuBord, 554th RHS infrastructure superintendent.

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