By MC1 Patrick Gordon, NMCB 25 Public Affairs
SW2 (SCW) Holly Robinson, NMCB 25 Water Well Team, adds gravel to the well at New Kabul Compound, Afghanistan, to maintain the shape and structure. Photo by MC1 Patrick Gordon
A flurry of activity is occurring in the heart of Kabul. At the New Kabul Compound (NKC), specially trained operators work around the clock to ensure mission accomplishment in a delicate operation for the future of Afghanistan. Mission: Locate and obtain the target hiding underground. Water.
These individuals are not SEALs or Green Berets. They are the “Roughnecks” of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 25, tasked with digging a new water well to support future NKC operations. And their mission goes until completion; three shifts per day, seven days a week.
“Working on the derrick mixing the chemicals, everyone has just been working really hard and really well as a team, 24 hours a day,” said Equipment Operator 1st Class John Cargill, NMCB 25 Water Well Team lead. “I couldn’t be happier with the way these guys are operating and the way things are going. Our turnover is really good; there is no stop in progress.”
Digging a well to support an installation such as NKC is a highly technical and involved process – far more complicated than simply drilling until water is found and calling it a day. Once a site is chosen by the command and a drilling location is decided upon, equipment – such as the drilling rig, the “Mud Puppy” mud filtration system and various material-moving vehicles – are brought in and drilling can begin.
“Next thing you do is drill a larger hole 20 feet down, then we set our surface casing, then we’ll grout or concrete that in,” explained Chief Equipment Operator Chad Strauser, NMCB 25 Water Well officer in charge. “Then you come back with a smaller drill bit and drill for your actual well casing, minimum of a 2-inch annular space around the pipe; so if you’re going with a 6-inch casing you would need a 10-inch hole, bare minimum.
“With the swelling of the clay around here – because some of it is reactive clay to moisture – it’s very dehydrated,” continued Strauser. “So we use chemicals to prevent that, and we also mitigate risk by taking a larger bit than what would technically be required.”
Strauser further explained that drilling goes until the aquifer is found, and then slightly beyond that to provide a sump for the well, though water is usually found at a much shallower depth.
CM2 Phillip Brown, NMCB 25 Water Well Team, repairs a piece of steel casing at the New Kabul Compound water well site, Afghanistan, April 26. Photo by SW2 Holly Robinson
“Typically, being that far under the surface there’s ground pressure, so it’s pushing the static water level up higher,” said Strauser. “We may have a static water level of 70 feet here, even though we found water at about 800 or 900 feet. It’ll actually push the water up the casing pipe and it will sit.
“It’s like a juice box – if you squeeze a juice box, the pressure pushes the liquid up the straw; that’s exactly what the ground pressure is doing with the aquifer,” said Strauser. “The earth is pressing down on the aquifer and it’s pushing the water up our tube like a straw, and then the water evens out at a static level in the well, and we set our well pump below that.”
The well casing is then packed with sand and gravel to support the structure of the well while simultaneously adding an extra level of filtration for the ground water to pass through before reaching the well screens. Air is pumped into the well formation to organize the sand packing around the screens and push out the finer silt to further clean the well.
In addition to providing a clean water source for NKC, the NMCB 25 Water Well Team is also using the project as a teaching tool. This deployment is the first for many of the junior Sailors on the team, and leadership is ensuring that every bit of experience can be gained in the process.
“What I like to do on my shift is make sure everyone gets a chance to rotate, so all these guys have had a chance to do some actual drilling,” said Cargill. “What we also do is make sure all of these guys are using their in-rate training.
“For example, my derrick is Steelworker 3rd Class [Robert] Pyse, and since he’s our steelworker he’s also doing all of our iron work and steel for us,” he continued. “It’s really great to see these guys out here doing what they do, because this is what we trained for, and we’re happy to do it.”
According to Cargill, progress continues just ahead of schedule because of the hard work by all three shifts of the NMCB 25 Water Well Team, and this infectious energy is felt up and down the chain of command.
“We started off a little rough, but ended up succeeding,” said Builder 3rd Class Eric Luckett, NMCB 25 Water Well Team member. “It was like a perfect transition from training to reality. What I’m going to walk away from this most proud of is we got to where we need to be as far as depth, and everything ran smoothly. I mean, honestly, this crew rocks.”
Members of NMCB 25 are in Afghanistan performing train and assist and partnering operations to develop and sustain the specialty and general engineering capabilities of the Afghan National Engineer Brigade in order to provide critical engineer skill sets to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. NMCB 25 is one of five active Reserve battalions. It is a routinely deployable unit standing ready to provide construction support for the Navy, Marine Corps and other organizations.
EO1 (SCW) John Cargill, NMCB 25 Water Well Team lead, monitors water flow from a well, New Kabul Compound, Afghanistan, April 30. Photo by MC1 Patrick Gordon