Airmen and Afghan well mission
Story by Staff Sgt. Christopher Willis
455th Air Expeditionary Wing
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan (Feb. 12, 2013) - U.S. airmen and local Afghan elders gathered around a broken water well in the heart of a small village outside of Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. Together they traded ideas on how to fix the pump and bring the fresh groundwater back to the village.
Members of the 777th Expeditionary Prime BEEF Squadron took on the task of fixing the multiple well pumps with the help of the 755th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron “Reapers” for security and as an operational lead.
The airmen traveled by foot in small groups over dirt roads and had to carry all their tools and equipment along with their weapons.
As they traveled through the villages to meet with the local elders, swarms of kids flanked their sides. These kids knew the airmen were here to help fix the well and some even pointed to the broken well and said the Arabic word for water, “ma”.
Any site work must be first coordinated with the local village elders, mullah and each well has a caretaker.
Years of constant war severely destroyed the physical infrastructure for delivering water, both for drinking and irrigation purposes. Moreover, droughts in the recent years have worsened the already fragile availability of safe drinking water and water for agricultural purposes.
Most of the local villages’ water well problems can be solved with a simple repair, cleaning or redevelopment.
“The primary failure was the rubber O-ring on the plunger,” said Maj. Wayne Sanaghan, 777th EPBS officer in charge, after fixing one pump. “Once the seal is broken, the suction is lost and water can’t be pulled up the main riser.”
A plunger replacement, which is relatively inexpensive by our standards, could cost a small fortune for some of the local residents in these villages.
It was not only the airmen working on the water well. The local well caretakers stepped in and showed how they had kept other decade-old wells running.
After more than two hours of joint U.S. and Afghan effort, the payoff was clearly visible. While the water flowed from the well, villagers came running from their homes with buckets as the team stood back with smiles on their faces.
“Fixing the well brought on feelings of joy and satisfaction, knowing what it meant for the people who relied on that water source,” said Senior Master Sgt. James Segebarth, 455th ESFG superintendent.
One village elder told the airmen that his family had to walk miles to the nearest village to use their working water wells.
“The pinnacle moment for me was when the water started flowing and I looked around to see both Air Force and Afghans working together and celebrating the success brought about by teamwork,” said Segebarth.
As the village kids flocked to the pump, mostly to play with the running water, a little Afghan girl gave a thumbs up to the departing airmen to signify a job well done.
U.S. airmen and local Afghan children pump water from the recently fixed water well located in a village near Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, Jan. 26, 2013. The airmen teamed up with local Afghan leaders to fix the broken well and bring the fresh groundwater back to the village. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Chris Willis)