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Massachusetts, Louisiana Guard work together, provide safe water in Haiti

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Meeker | Louisiana Army National Guard | June 15, 2011

GONAIVES, Haiti - In August, members of the 125th Quartermaster Company, a reverse osmosis water purification unit of the Massachusetts National Guard, traveled to Fort Story, Va., to compete against the top seven Army ROWPUs in the nation – active duty, Reserve and National Guard inclusive.

They won.

Less than a year later they deployed to Haiti in April to put their excellence to a real-world test in the austere climate and geography of Mandrin, a rural community a few miles from here, where the Louisiana National Guard established the Task Force Bon Voizen headquarters camp.

Task Force Bon Voizen, New Horizons Haiti 2011, is a U.S. Southern Command sponsored, U.S. Army South conducted, joint foreign military interaction/humanitarian exercise under the command of the Louisiana National Guard. Task Force Bon Voizen is deploying U.S. military engineers and medical professionals to Haiti for training and to provide humanitarian services.

The basic task force training mission is two-fold: build a schoolhouse, two clinics and a latrine facility, and concurrently execute four separate 10-day humanitarian medical/dental exercises for the citizens of the Artibonite Department, which encompasses the greater Gonaives area.

None of this is possible without clean water for drinking, bathing, preparing food and cleaning equipment. The 125th ROWPU has produced and purified approximately 440,000 gallons of potable water, and another 100,000 gallons of brine water used to mix concrete for the engineering projects, said Army 1st Lt. Danielle Golden, the 125th’s mission commander in Haiti.

The unit’s essential mission to provide and purify water for all task force operations never varies from its 24/7 daily operations. It begins each morning around 1 a.m. when Army Sgt. 1st Class Stanley Martin, the 125th’s senior enlisted leader, wakes up to activate the well head so that its water begins to fill the storage bladder.

“First we have to draw our water from the well each night, which takes from 12 to14 hours because we only get 1,400 gallons an hour,” Martin said. “After we process all that water, it goes into the 50K bag. Then we do our regular chlorine test to make sure the water quality meets U.S. standards.”

“We do this [check chlorine level] three times a day, because you can get sick if there’s not enough, and you can get diarrhea if there’s too much,” Golden added.“So it really has to be monitored.”

The ROWPU’s activities here in Haiti extend beyond just the provision and purification of the well water at task force headquarters. The Soldiers of the 125th also periodically visit local waterways – rivers, lakes and irrigation ditches – to test for suitability should the well fail, or additional water requirements arise.

They try to get their new troops, who rotate in for their 15-day annual training requirement, up in the air on a task force helicopter flight to survey the local water spots before they drive out and do their sampling, Golden said.

Another ROWPU mission that satisfies Golden’s desire to do what she can to help – her motivation for joining the National Guard – has worked itself out in a valuable way for local citizens when she and Martin visited area schools to test the purity of the well water at each site. Though located on school grounds, these wells serve all the citizens in each respective community, so having clean water is a health-care issue for more than just the students.

Two of the wells were dug by past New Horizons Haiti task forces, so they feel especially invested in the outcome of the tests, Golden said.

“All three of the schools had very good water, and it felt good to be able to report that,” she said.

The 125th’s piece of Task Force Bon Voizen began with a huge challenge, brought about by an initial misunderstanding between the Louisiana National Guard’s advance party and the 125th’s advance party, which included Golden and Martin.

The Louisiana leadership didn’t realize that setting up the well head wasn’t an ROWPU task and the ROWPU didn’t realize that this task was mistakenly expected of them, Martin said.

However the challenge cemented the close relationship that developed between the two states’ Guard members. From the get-go, they had to work together to accomplish a vital task.

“We learned to set up a well – something that we’d never normally do,” said Martin.

“It wasn’t even on our ‘radar,’” Golden added.

“But we all did it together,” Martin said. “And now we know we can do it, even though it’s not in our job description.”

“Working with Louisiana was really, really good,” Martin added. “We’ve never worked with anyone like them before. They’ve been so supportive.”

“Louisiana – the way they carry themselves, they’re just so easy to work with,” Golden said. “They’re very helpful, and smart too. All around, they knew what was going on.”

Attitudes were just as important as smarts here.

Golden said Army Sgt. Maj. Jerry Harvey, a member of the Louisiana National Guard unit, had a positive attitude from the start and when they got stressed out, or down a little bit, Harvey had the ‘no problem’ attitude.

The good impressions went both ways.

“I didn’t know what to expect because they were from Massachusetts,” Harvey said. “But when I met Lt. Golden and Sgt. Martin, everything just clicked. They were very professional … with a can-do attitude. We got with them and started working together. It was just amazing how much they knew and how dedicated they were to making the mission work. They were just a pleasure – they didn’t take no for an answer. They’re by far the best ROWPU … I’ve ever seen.”

“[If you needed] help with something, Louisiana was there,” Martin added. “… If you [needed] something, they would say, ‘I’ll get if for you … regardless of rank.’”

Perhaps the camaraderie Golden and Martin developed with Louisiana was a logical extension of the camaraderie they share with each other.

“He [Martin] and I together … we’re a … dream team,” Golden told Maj. Gen Joseph C. Carter, Massachusetts’ adjutant general, when he visited in early June.