Water purification is a ‘game changer’ in Tunisia at African Lion 2024

GABES, Tunisia – Perched between Algeria to the west and Libya to the southeast, most of Tunisia’s northern and eastern borders share a coastline with the Mediterranean Sea. Southern Tunisia extends into the barren landscape of the Sahara desert where water is scarce and sandstorms are frequent.


“In year’s past, wash rack operations severely depleted Tunisian water tables,” said U.S. Army Maj. Travis Michelena, theater sustainment planner, 79th Theater Sustainment Command, the 364th ESC’s higher headquarters. “This year was a game changer. We’re not even pulling water from underground or wells; it’s coming straight out of the Mediterranean Sea.”
By Maj. Joe Legros U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa Gabes, Tunisia May 12, 2024
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GABES, Tunisia – Perched between Algeria to the west and Libya to the southeast, most of Tunisia’s northern and eastern borders share a coastline with the Mediterranean Sea. Southern Tunisia extends into the barren landscape of the Sahara Desert where water is scarce and sandstorms are frequent.

From April 29 to May 10, 2,500 multinational participants in exercise African Lion 2024 (AL24) called this diverse and mostly dry landscape their home. The exercise saw infantry live-fire training, artillery units firing M777 howitzers and high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS), all while partnering with the Tunisian Armed Forces to build interoperability and readiness.

Aside from bullets, mortars and rockets, one thing all participants also needed was water.

“It’s our first time coming out for African Lion,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Casey Pilcher, a water purification specialist with the 651st Quartermaster Company (651st QM CO), 814th Transportation Battalion, 652nd Regional Support Group, 364th Expeditionary Sustainment Command (364th ESC). “We are very excited to come to Tunisia and show what our can could do.”

Traveling more than a full day from Evansville, Wyo. the unit was tasked with the vital role of purifying water throughout the exercise. In the process, they also strengthened the partnerships between the U.S. and Tunisia.

“In year’s past, wash rack operations severely depleted Tunisian water tables,” said U.S. Army Maj. Travis Michelena, theater sustainment planner, 79th Theater Sustainment Command, the 364th ESC’s higher headquarters. “This year was a game changer. We’re not even pulling water from underground or wells; it’s coming straight out of the Mediterranean Sea.”

Wash rack operations include the detailed cleaning of equipment and vehicles prior to loading upon a seaborne vessel for shipment back to the country of origin. Considering the size of some vehicles, a significant amount of water must be consumed to accomplish the task.

The members of 651st QM CO are experts in the science of water purification, a skill crucial for survival in any theater of operation. Drawing from their extensive training, these soldiers excel in sourcing water from diverse environmental reservoirs, filtering it to the highest standards, and distributing it for a multitude of purposes.

In Tunisia, where water scarcity has long been a challenge, their expertise took on added significance.

“We use a reverse osmosis water purification unit,” said Pilcher. “Basically, it transforms seawater, even with high salinity levels like the Mediterranean, and converts it into a life-sustaining resource.”

The unit also spent time with Tunisian Armed Forces partners, who utilize a similar purification process, but have not used it during previous exercises. For a huge training event like AL24, it is essential when preventing the depletion of water tables.

This breakthrough not only enhances the operational capabilities of both nations. but also fosters goodwill and collaboration on a global scale.

By harnessing the power of seawater purification, the unit mitigates environmental impact while meeting the high demands of military operations. At AL24, this resolved two critical issues. The unit produced drinkable water to reduce reliance upon plastic water bottles, and secondly, the purified water utilized for wash rack operations no longer depleted Tunisian water tables.

This innovative approach exemplifies the commitment to environmental stewardship and international cooperation.

“One of the best parts about coming to Africa is getting the opportunity to work side-by-side with Tunisian partners," said U.S. Army 1st Lt. David Sneed, commander of the 651st QM CO. "Exercises like African Lion allow us to hone our own skills and techniques, but also take pride in knowing we’ve shared best practices between both nations. This ensures we’re both ready for future challenges."

Even though AL24 concluded in Tunisia, the 651st QM CO will stay behind until May 16 to facilitate purified water for cleaning equipment prior to transit. The rest of the exercise continues in other host nations of Morocco, Ghana and Senegal until May 31.

SETAF-AF provides U.S. Africa Command and U.S. Army Europe & Africa a dedicated headquarters to synchronize Army activities in Africa and scalable crisis-response options in Africa and Europe.

For all photos, videos and articles throughout the exercise, visit https://www.dvidshub.net/feature/AfricanLionEx

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