Hunting for Water: A Look at Military Well Drilling in Africa
Water is on everyone's minds these days. In Africa, there is either too little or too much of it.
In the case of Ethiopia, the U.S. Seabees in Naval Mobile Construction Battalion - 5 (NMCB-5) responded to recent flooding in Dire Dawa. They moved 60 tents from Djibouti to Dire Dawa and trained the military forces on site on how to set up the tents and provide shelter for displaced civilians.
Even with all the recent rains, many places in Africa, including areas in Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti, still need a clean source of water. Engineers in Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa are working to aid in this effort.
Drilling water wells is one way that the U.S. Army Reserves 334th Engineer Detachment out of Mobile, Ala., and the Seabees of NMCB-5 out of Port Hueneme, Calif., are able to contribute. Their job is difficult, dangerous and messy, but they carry with them the true spirit of military engineers. Their “can-do” attitude often is the only thing that keeps them going. Once they begin drilling a well, they do not stop until it's done. They drill for 24 hours a day for about two weeks straight to complete most wells. They operate no matter how hot it is, as they seek the proper depth to get access to usable water.
One challenge for drillers in Djibouti is the geology. Djibouti is almost all basalt, one of the hardest rocks on earth. Drilling is very slow, and drill bits often are quickly used up. In the current operation, both Army well drillers and Seabees have teamed up “to cut their teeth” on building a new well. It has proven challenging and has provided both teams with tremendous field experience.
There is both science and a little bit of art involved in drilling a hole. Recently, the Army team started the initial borehole and got to 65 feet when the rig had some maintenance issues. Rather than wait to get the replacement parts, the Army and Navy teams combined forces and brought out the Navy rig to continue the project. After a few tries and some messy moments, the well drillers successfully reached the target depth. As they continue to develop this well, the Seabees and soldiers are learning valuable lessons and improving their skills while providing a highly valued resource - water.
Once this well is completed, the Army team will move on to complete a series of wells in remote villages throughout Djibouti; these wells will provide usable water to health clinics. Soon, the Seabees are heading to Kenya to complete a joint effort with the Kenyan military to drill wells in areas that are in desperate need of water. Through these efforts, Coalition members continue to provide humanitarian assistance support.