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Army barges water to Marshallese in Kwajalein

By C. Todd Lopez

KWAJALEIN, Republic of the Marshall Islands (Nov. 29, 2010) -- The U.S. Army provided about 40,000 gallons of water to the nearby island of Ebeye as part of a relief effort when that island's supply system failed earlier this month.

Ebeye Island, in the Kwajalein Atoll, is home to about 15,000 Marshallese.

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The water purification system on that island failed Nov. 13, leaving islanders with just a four-day supply of water. The Army stepped in to help with the shortage.

"Some of the units were having a problem, so they were unable to generate fresh water for the population over there," said Col. Joseph N. Gaines, commander of U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll. "We stand ready to support our neighbors in Ebeye, especially when there is a health, life or safety issue."

When the water purification system at Ebeye failed, islanders there made a request that ultimately landed on Gaines' desk, Nov. 17. The commander turned to his director of logistics, Capt. Michael Quigley, to fix the problem.

The captain sent a reconnaissance team to Ebeye to assess the state of the water supply system there. Ultimately, some repair work had to be done to fix supply lines on the island before fresh water could be brought in.

By that evening, a water barge travelled the short distance from Kwajalein to Ebeye and once there, the fresh water was pumped into the island's water system. Unload time for the water took only two hours, Quigley said.

Gaines said this kind of effort is not part of the mission at Kwajalein, but it's not something he'd hesitate to do again.

"From my perspective as a commander, any time they make a request like this and they need our help, we're going to step in and help them," Gaines said. "We will not hesitate to respond and support the Marshallese people. A good portion of our workforce comes from Ebeye and they are an important part of our community. Water is life here in the Pacific."

Quigley said providing such support to the Marshallese is something he as a logistics officer is expected to know how to do.

"It is one of the aspects of full spectrum operations," he said. "Coming from two tours in Iraq, doing multiple things including both transportation and some humanitarian support, you are kind of expected as a logistics officer to keep that in your back pocket -- being able to pull that out when you need it."

The reverse osmosis water treatment system at Ebeye was repaired by Nov. 18, five days after it failed. Water from the Army at Kwajalein, in conjunction with water already on the island and rainwater, enabled the islanders to get through the last two days before the system could be repaired, Quigley said.

In the Kwajalein Atoll, fresh water comes from rain. On Kwajalein Island, for instance, drinking water is collected in a catchment system on the island's runway. Freshwater captured there is sanitized and stored to be used on the island for drinking water, showering and other uses.

"Every time we get an inch of rain we get about 800,000 gallons of water in," Quigley said. "A lot of people here complain about the rain, but it's a nice thing to have."

The Kwajalein Atoll -- a collection of islands -- is one of 29 atolls and five islands that make up the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Within Kwajalein Atoll, the largest island -- Kwajalein -- is occupied entirely by the U.S. Army's Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site and its support elements.

Within the atoll, the nearest island neighbor to Kwajalein is Ebeye. Ebeye is the most populated island.

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