A series of intertwined, water-filled canals create a patchwork of green fields, abundant in crops near the section of al-Zooba, here, in Baghdad.
The intricate irrigation system provides essential water to the local farms but not to its inhabitants.
“Potable water makes the difference between getting disease. For us, it’s the difference between life and death,” said Spc. Stephen Palac, a combat medic, about the importance of available drinking water. “There are all kinds of bad organisms in that canal water which leads to lots of stomach problems.”
National Guard Soldiers of 2nd Platoon “Spartans,” 1st Battalion, 150th Armored Reconnaissance Squadron, 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, visited one of five solar-powered water-purification pumps donated by U.S. Forces and Iraqi Security Forces to local Iraqis leaders in the area to fulfill the need for potable water.
“Before, the people got sick from the water,” explained Sheikh Mohammed Shalal Syiar, a local sons of Iraq leader, Aug. 28. “Then, we got our water from the pumping station, but it was difficult to get to and if the power was out, then no fresh water. The kids and young people need the water. Now, they come here by foot.”
The clean water from the local pumping station is their main source of water, when the electricity works. Since the neighborhood is at the end of the power grid, power failures are commonplace, said Staff Sgt. Travers Brake, a cavalry scout platoon sergeant from Elkins, W. Va., assigned to the Spartans. U.S. forces in the area recognized a need for portable water filters and filled that need.
“I have a schedule to run the pump,” said Mohammed. “Everybody in the area comes and gets water from here.”
According to Mohammed, about ten people come a day to get water and fill about 200 bottles.
“It’s a simple pump and a simple process,” explained Brake. “It’s very few moving parts and all solar powered. It’s got a battery bank and sucks power from the sun.”
Unfiltered water passes through a filter and out another tube, producing drinkable water.
“Security is number one and water number two,” said Mohammed.
Early in their deployment, the Spartan troops realized that taking care of the community and security are as intertwined as the canal system and the green fields.
“Specifically, this area is thankful to the U.S. forces,” said Mohammed. “They take care of the welfare of the families.”
“It shows we’re trying to help and not ask for anything in return,” said Palac. “It does help the security situation though. [The water pump] is a gift.”
In return, the Soldiers see increases in security gains and cooperation from the community.
“We’re real lucky in our area because the people are kind and respectful and we give that back to them and try to help out,” explained Brake. “They know we’re not here to harm them and we’re here to do good.”
Palac agreed, “It’s something that the kids see and think, ‘Hey, why don’t we try to improve this place too?’ But that’s up to them.”
The Spartans have done their part by bringing clean water to the community, providing security and building relationships. Now, as the young medic suggested, the rest is up to the people of Iraq.
Story by Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell