WATER BAGS IN MRE CASES: TACTICAL, LIGHTWEIGHT WATER RESUPPLY
by Mike Sparks, Director of the 1st Tactical Studies Group (Airborne)
U.S. Army Light infantry forces operating in closed terrain against mobile Far East Asian guerrillas are running out of water...Their S-4 has sent the Company HMMWV with a trailer full of 50 pound 5 gallon plastic water cans and Meals-Ready-Eat (MREs) to a grid coordinate nearest their last reported position. To move this heavy "LOGPAC" back to their comrades an entire Platoon of infantry must meet the resupply HMMWV at an obvious danger area--a road or trail. As the HMMWV stops, the first two squads grab the water cans and MRE cases and begin to trudge back with their hands full. BRRRRP! small arms fire rips into the last squad and HMMWV by a guerrilla force rushing to the sound of the vehicle's engines. A dozen U.S. Soldiers are dead and the only resupply vehicle for an infantry company is in flames before the guerrillas "melt" back into the woods.
The rest of the Logpack Platoon with their hands full walks into a trip-wire activated booby-trap and a Soldier is lying on the ground bleeding. The MREs and water cans are dropped as they return fire at nothing. The Soldier dies within seconds from arterial bleeding. All the MREs and water cans cannot be refound. The bloody Logpack finally arrives at the Company area and is distributed. Men fill up their individual canteens and their rucks with MREs. The 5 gallon plastic water cans are soon empty. The Company has to move out at once on Battalion orders and fix and destroy the enemy.
"Hey, Sergeant Miller, what do we do with these empty water cans?" asks a Private. He thinks for a minute. "Leave them where they lie". Their Platoon Sergeant over-rules this decision. "Listen up! Battalion wants those water cans back. Strap them to your ruck and move-out"...
The hapless infantry Company moves out with half-filled water cans sloshing and empty water cans banging and others left in the area for the enemy to use them or turn them into booby-traps to kill American Soldiers.
The good news is that this scene has only taken place in training at Fort Polk, JRTC in the "maneuver boxes" which are littered with left behind 5 gallon water cans. Forcing Light Infantry units to have to account for and return 5 gallon water cans places them at risk to enemy fire by forcing them to abandon their advantages in closed terrain habitation in order to meet up with LOGPACK vehicles at danger areas. What we learned the hard way in Vietnam might have to be relearned again in blood in the next light infantry intensive war likely to occur in the volatile Far East. The good news is the solution is in hand.
DISPOSABLE WATER BAGS
One of the most difficult logistical missions in light infantry is water resupply. These Soldiers must have water to survive, but they must also carry what they drink. In cool weather, six quarts will last 24 hours. In hot weather, Soldiers will drink more than eight quarts in 24 hours, which means they will have to be resupplied every 12 hours. From a Battalion S-4's perspective, the difficulty is in making sure water gets to every Soldier in a usable package.
When I was a Battalion S-4 in the 2d Battalion, 27th Infantry, ("Wolfhounds"), 25th Infantry Division (Light) during a rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center and all of the training for it, I learned a lot about water resupply.
There are various ways to resupply water in light infantry: One way is to deliver water cans to line companies with the logistical package (LOGPAC). The problem with this method is that the platoons and squads are usually spread out and performing missions. There is not time enough to distribute five-gallon cans and collect the empty cans during the short LOGPAC window. Soldiers have to carry them around until the next LOGPAC. Supply Sergeants have to bring along at least 80 water cans so they can keep 40 with the company between LOGPACs (not counting cans that will be lost).
A second method is to use 50-gallon blivets during LOGPAC. But it is unrealistic for a company to use them, because all its Soldiers must be brought to one location to fill their canteens.
The solution we came up with was to use flexible six-gallon plastic milk containers, the milk bags used in the mess hall. Just like backpackers have discovered flexible drinking bladders that compact when empty, the flexible water bag would minimize itself after use. We bought milk bags empty from a milk company, more than 1,000 bags cost less than $800 in high cost of living Hawaii and should be even less expensive in CONUS areas. The 1,000 bags, which came with a sealed white tube attached, took up the space of a footlocker. To fill a bag with water, a Soldier pops the tube off, puts water in and replaces the tube. To fill a canteen from the bag, he cuts the end of the tube and water streams into the canteen. Bending the tube recloses it using a surgical clamp. Since then we have found a more inexpensive source:
$623.41 buys 1000 bags: part# 1805029
Parish Manufacturing Incorporated
7430 New Augusta Road
Indianapolis, IN 46268
POC: Mr. John B. Billheimer
We used the water bags for the first time during a Brigade field training exercise. The one problem we had to solve was carrying the bags once they were filled. If they were not packaged, they were difficult to carry around and load. We wanted a package that was already part of the supply system and one that could be thrown away.
MRE (meals, ready to eat) boxes fit both of these needs. The support platoon put the MREs in trash bags in Brigade support area before bringing them out at LOGPAC, and then they put the full water bags in the MRE boxes. This worked very well. The boxes are easier to load and are intended to be thrown away when they're empty. When the LOGPAC was delivered, all the supply Sergeant had to do was kick out the MRE boxes and the trash bags, which reduced out LOGPAC time. SFC DeKemper of the 1/152d Infantry (812) 634-5004 and Major Bosworth of the 113th Support Battalion (812) 376-9027 e-mail: email@example.com have contacted the supplier listed above to insure the bags fit the newer shape MRE ration cases. They have dropped the new bags in the new MRE cases from 15 feet from helicopters with no damage. "100 mph" Army-green duct tape should be placed over the inside MRE box flaps to pad their edges to reduce water bag rubbing.
Once the Soldiers had been resupplied, they were able to treat everything delivered at LOGPAC like trash. They left it for pick-up/destroyed it and moved out, without fear of the enemy detecting their presence or using the items against us.
BETTER AIR-GROUND DELIVERY
USAF airlift historian Sam McGowan writes:
"In the summer of 1943 a B-24 Liberator crew got lost over the desert after overflying their base in Libya. Search flights by other B-24s found the men, but due to their location it was going to take more than a week for ground teams to reach them. Search planes dropped food and water in canteens to the men, but the canteens ruptured and the men were unable to get much other than they were able to get off of the rocks. In one case a 5-gallon can ruptured, but the men managed to capture about 2 gallons. The problem of delivering water was solved when someone at the base decided put the water container inside a "seabag," which I take to mean a duffel bag, with packets of food around the water. The water containers, which I believe were either canteens or 5-gallon Jerry Cans, arrived intact.
That sounds to me like a viable way of delivering water, by packing the containers inside other containers with other cargo around to protect them from rupturing. In the referred instance the airplanes were dropping the bundles without parachutes."
When the bags are in MRE boxes, they can easily be sling loaded or airdropped. They can also be stacked inside aircraft and ground vehicles/trailers unlike water cans which bulge when full and slide off each other. More water bags in MRE cases can be delivered in a smaller space because they can be stack on top of each other. We conducted five Battalion Air assaults in preparing for and conducting our JRTC rotation. We helicopter sling-loaded or stacked water boxes with almost every Air assault. The same is not true of water blivets or cans. We dropped water bags in MREs cases without parachutes and they did not break.
Testing will show that water bags in MRE cases can be more easily airdropped as Container Delivery System (CDS) bundles using low-velocity parachutes than 5 gallon water cans because of their superior stacking properties. However, CDS requires Riggers, time and $ for cargo parachutes, A-22 bags (must be recovered), shock absorbing honeycomb, etc. etc. This complication makes Logistics/operations planners reluctant to use airdrop to deliver water and results in mission compromise from vulnerable overland resupply to be used.
However, if a small amount of honeycomb were added as a liner--say less than an inch all around--inside every MRE box or a specially designed water bag/MRE case with waterproof coating, carry handles/strap slots and water tube access, then each cased water bag (or MREs) could be freedropped without any parachutes or rigging. Just as ammunition and individual MREs can be freedropped, now water can be pushed out the door of a helicopter from a low altitude so the enemy cannot ascertain our location as a hover or airlanding would signal. Freedropping is the most accurate airdrop technique from fixed wing USAF aircraft as there is no wind drift under a parachute to factor in. Thus, free drops of cased water could be pin-point accurate to even small units on the move and not require a large static drop zone as CDS bundles require. The troops receiving the bulk water wouldn't have to deal with cargo parachutes, honeycomb etc as the problem of cushioning is solved with the least amount of material possible. Freedrop allows USAF aircraft to air-deliver above enemy air defenses and small arms fire (10,000 feet plus) so they can survive and fight on for the next mission.
Cased water bags could be free-dropped individually inexpensively and accurately to Paratroopers without need of cargo parachutes like MREs were free-dropped to Bosnians during Operation Provide Promise using the TRIADS system. This is a cardboard box that holds loosely held items in place as the load on a skid board slides out the rear ramp of USAF cargo aircraft. Upon hitting the slipstream, the box is torn apart, sending the individual MREs or cases of water to the ground. The water bag cases can be placed inside a rucksack or strappped to the outside or held for short distances using integral handle/strap slots for recovery. If a case is missed, its basically trash so it isn't a costly item like a parachute that would require the mission to stop until its found.
Another possibility with the case shock liner is the water bags being stacked/strapped onto CDS skidboards with a forklift pallet type construction and freedropped or high velocity dropped with just a drogue parachute to keep the load upright (2d most accurate air-delivery means) so a 4K rough terrain forklift (can also be air-dropped to the scene) can move large quantities of water quickly for large bodies of troops. For the first time, Force/Contingency planners will be able to air-deliver in an affordable manner enough water to sustain large units in a desert crisis situation and not worry about establishing ground water supply lines until its tactically/operationally secure.
As you can see below, "subsistence items" meaning MREs in their cases, and water in 5 gallon cans can be HIGH-VELOCITY airdropped (70-90 feet per second) with only a small slotted parachute to keep them upright so they land on their skid boards and shock absorbing honeycomb.These are stacked items. Thus, if you take single items and wrap them completely in a box with energy absorbing material you do not need a small slotted parachute to hold them upright since they can land on any side. I know this works because I've seen 4 x 5 gallon water cans taped together dropped from a marine helicopter without ANY shock absorbers land on top of a LT's Camaro without any damage to the water cans. By the items not being stacked, and falling as individual boxes the impact pressure will be much less and thus, not need 3" honeycomb stacks. Honeycomb and a big cargo parachute for low-velocity airdrop (less than 28 feet per second) eggs without damage, so we know automatically that waterbags as is will survive LVADs. LVAD is costly and time consuming to set up; a LVAD CDS bundle drifts under canopy and often ends up in trees and a long distance from its intended location.
The point here is that with a relatively small amount of energy dissipation material built-into the waterbag case, not as a costly afterthought in a high or low velocity bundle airdrop with STACKS of cased waterbags, individual waterbags in cases could be FREEDROPPED (130-150 feet per second) with greater accuracy and less cost. We already have the individual MRE meal freedrop technique perfected which can be applied to cased waterbags. Getting the job done with the LEAST amount of airdrop material possible with the greatest accuracy.
-No plywood skid boards
-No 3" honeycomb layers
-No 550 para cord lashings
-No type XIII nylon straps
-No expensive A-22 CDS bags to recover or pay for loss
-No expensive ring slot or cargo parachute to recover or pay for loss
-Pinpoint accuracy without wind drift under parachutes
-High altitude freedrops to avoid enemy air defenses
-Easier to rig/deliver
-Dramatically lower costs overall
We are talking about thousands of dollars of Army money saved on water resupply missions as well as better service to the troops on the ground who don't have to collect parachutes etc. It makes bulk air delivery of water to refugees a possibility.
As an added bonus, if the waterbag case is perfected it can be used to airdrop MREs, since MRE meals are virtually indestructible, the Army just doesn't realize they can be freedropped in cases---YET.
FM 29-51 Division Supply and Field Service Operations, November 1984
Freedrop. No parachute or retarding device is used for freedrop. Energy-dissipating material (honeycomb used to absorb shock from impact) may be used around the load to lessen the shock when the load hits the ground. The load descends at a rate of 130 to 150 feet per second. Fortification or barrier material, clothing in bales, and other such items may be freedropped.
High-Velocity. Ring-slot cargo, cargo-extraction, and pilot parachutes are used to stabilize loads for high-velocity airdrop. Refer to TM 10-500-7 for a description of each parachute. The parachute has enough drag to hold the load upright during the descent at 70 to 90 feet per second. Items to be air-dropped are placed on energy-dissipating material and rigged in an airdrop container. Subsistence, packaged POL products, ammunition, and other such items may be air-dropped by this method. Rigging procedures are in the FM 10-501 series.
Low-Velocity. Cargo parachutes are used for low-velocity airdrop. Items are rigged on an airdrop platform or in an airdrop container. Energy-dissipating material is put beneath the load to lessen the shock when the load his the ground. Cargo parachutes attached to the load reduce the rate of descent to no more than 28 feet per second. Fragile material, vehicles, and artillery may be air-dropped by this method. Rigging procedures are in the FM 10-500 series.
Now both food and water supplies can be air-dropped from any aircraft directly to U.S. Army units on the march without any special preparation.
TACTICALLY SOUND WATER TRANSPORT
There are some other TACTICAL benefits to water-bag/MRE case resupply. The bag's two-ply plastic will not burst unless it is punctured by a sharp object, and it can be reused. A Soldier can put any amount he wants in the bag and the bag conforms to this shape and doesn't slosh and make noise which can give his presence away to an enemy like a rigid water can does---and carry it in his rucksack like a five-quart blivet. Unlike the 5 gallon cans, the Soldier's hands are free to point his weapon out ready to fire at the enemy if spotted. He doesn't have large empty water cans banging strapped to the outside of his rucksack, either.
In fact, after the Company resupply HMMWV stops, the water bags/MRE cases and MREs in trash bags can be pushed out of the truckbed or trailer as the HMMWV drives away quickly outfitted with its own medium machine gun for self-defense purposes. Instead of a large number of Soldiers to manpack the supplies back, a relative few place the food/water cases inside All-Terrain All-purpose Carts (ATACs) and tow the supplies back quickly without exposing themselves to enemy detection/fire while doing time-consuming, noisy repacking.
VEHICLE SPACE AT A PREMIUM SAVED
When emptied, 5 gallon water cans are space-hogs. Troops in vehicles gain nothing when empty water cans clutter the inside of their Armored Fighting Vehicle or truck bed with troop TA-50 and ammunition/equipment can hinder their combat effectiveness. In Panama, a loose belt of M60 MMG ammo snagged on TA-50 and a gunner was unable to engage enemy troops who had detected their movement into attack positions, resulting in the entire invasion time being moved up from the loss of tactical surprise.
In contrast, the water bag and its MRE case can flatten to nothing when its doing nothing--stored on the outside of the vehicles or against the vehicle's wall where water can be retrieved by tube without lifting and pouring a 50 pound can. They can be saved for fill up and/or be sent back to the water point for refilling. Or they can be thrown away if the logistics system is flowing thousands of cased water bags to troops on the march.
FORWARD PUSH: COMBAT WATER CACHES
With water-bag resupply, it is easier to preposition or cache water. When prepositioning cans or blivets, there is always concern that they will be left behind because they are about $30 each. With the water bags (at less than .80 cents each), there is no worry about leaving them behind. A unit can preposition bags in two different sites, knowing that only one of them will be used. We can begin to forward PUSH logistics by planning and anticipation of requirements instead of lagging behind trying to fill needs that should have been met hours and days before.
ADEQUATE AMOUNTS OF COOL WATER IN THE DESERT
Logistics doctrine is that in the desert 7 gallons of water per man is required just for hygiene! In a contingency situation where U.S. Army troops are deployed half a world away to the desert there is no way that we can carry and afford a pair of expensive water cans for each Soldier. Disposable water bags can finally allow Army contingency forces to take along enough water to meet their needs in the initial assault/deployment in an affordable, compact manner that doesn't rob space onboard aircraft needed to deliver light Armored fighting Vehicles like the M113A3.
Current 5 gallon water cans get extremely hot when the sun bears down on their exposed plastic---we have to bury them several inches below the hot surface in the Sinai for MFO and during Kuwait deployments in order to make their water drinkable. Army studies prove cold/cool water is far more effective at cooling core body temperatures to reduce the risk of heat stroke than hot water. On top of this, we have to shuttle ice to Soldiers to make water more bearable--another practice that can compromise a light infantry or any unit's location to the enemy.
Water bags in MRE cases on the other hand are shielded from the direct rays of the sun, and are likely to remain cooler making it un-necessary to expend energy and time burying water supplies and shuttling ice to forward unit Soldiers/Paratroopers. The unit's water supplies are also more mobile or disposable in event they have to displace quickly to evade enemy fires or continue the attack. The fact that the 5 gallon water can has to be recovered and takes up space even when emptied makes it a nagging nuisance. Cases can be filled with sand/dirt and dropped onto the ground as route markers through minefields etc.
NO WATER FREEZING IN THE ARCTIC
Water uninsulated quickly freezes in the cold weather regions of the world. The water bags by being inside MRE boxes are less likely to freeze than plastic water cans and by virtue of their compact stacking capability (or flattening when empty) can be stored inside tents to keep from freezing without hogging up all the space inside.
An enhanced MRE/water bag case with waterproof outer coating can replace the slow-to-fill sandbag as the standard field ortification of the U.S. Army. Soldiers can quickly fill up cases saved from MRE/water resupply with dirt/sand since noone has to hold open a flimsy bag then tie it closed. The case is closed, then stacked to form protective walls without need of revetments and line vehicles for small arms/mine protection. The sandbag has no shape and cannot stand on its own, Water bag/MRE cases can interlock like building bricks and stand on their own.
If left outside and deliberately frozen, the water bags in MRE cases become field fortifications since sand bags do not work with snow and ice. The "icecrete" Water/MRE cases can be linked like bricks without need of outside support holding them together to form shelters from the extreme cold weather and enemy weapons effects.
HEALTHIER SOLDIERS DRINK CLEANER WATER
The reason why the G.I. metal mess kits were retired was that they could never be completely sterilized of germs in a field environment, so we have went to disposable utensils and plates. This same problem effects the 5 gallon water can, the individual one and two quart canteens and the Soldier's toothbrush he reuses constantly without any cleaning let alone sterilization. Rommel's Afrika Corps in WWII lost more men to illness from bad hygiene practices than enemy fire. The future NBC contaminated battlefield leaves us no option to ignore these realities anymore: cased water supplies can be filled in a protected environment and shuttled forward to troops. The actual water bag itself is protected from NBC agents by virtue of its case which can be removed---whereas the 5 gallon water can is exposed to direct contact with NBC agents, making it unusable. A disposable toothbrush should be molded onto the back handle of the MRE spoon, and 1 quart canteens and 5 gallon water cans replaced with disposable alternatives whenever possible.
DISASTER RELIEF/CIVIL AFFAIRS
Water stored in water bags is good depending on the quality of the water placed in the bags----the bags are good for up to 2 years. It behooves the National Guard and FEMA to have these 5-6 gal water bags in cases stored for disaster response. They could be empty until needed, filled up by a machine on a HMMWV trailer. 1 cased 5 ga bag per family makes better sense than multiple 1 gallon jugs. Free-dropped cased water bags can reach and save people in danger (third world countries by U.S. Army Civil Affairs units) without expending a small fortune .
WATER BAGS OF THE NEAR FUTURE
My recommendation is that the U.S. Army make water-bag resupply the standard for ALL units. If water bags were made to fit light infantry unit specifications, the resupply process would be easier for everyone and also save money. A specially-mass produced Army water bag to fit into the new MRE case for literally pennies would have several tubes with push-pull spouts like now used on expendable sports drink bottles so more than one Soldier can fill up his canteen at a time from the water bag, gaining a faster canteen refilling capability than now possible with water cans = reducing Soldier exposure time and noise during water resupply. The water bags could be integral to Reverse Osmosis Water Purification (ROWPU) units now filling up smaller one liter disposable bags as another option for water resupply, since these bags are .30 cents each when you can get 5-6 gallons for .62 cents each.
Anyone who has been to the JRTC knows that many water cans are lost or left behind in the maneuver "boxes". During unit training, it's the same story. Water bags cost far less and can be reused if necessary, and Soldiers can carry empty bags around because they collapse if they have to. Another saving , both in dollars and in unit effectiveness, is the heat casualties, most of which occur because individual Soldiers do not have access to enough water.
Water-bag resupply is the cheapest, most efficient way of getting water to the people who need it most--the infantrymen and tanker at company level.
Major Robert O. Bosworth writes in the May-Hune 1999 Army Logistician magazine:
Unit-Level Water Resupply-It's in the Bag
Recent developments in the water-packaging arena have created alternatives to the 5-gallon water can as the method of choice for water resupply at the unit level.
The Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) has been using a water-packaging system that produces 1-liter bags of water that are small enough to fit into the cargo pocket of the battledress uniform (BDU). Several active-duty and Army National Guard light infantry units have been testing 6-gallon water bags developed by local contractors. The 1-liter and 6-gallon bags already have been used successfully at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC), Fort Polk, Louisiana, and Soldiers in the field have given them their stamp of approval. To logisticians, the ultimate benefit of these water bags is the flexibility they provide for supporting Soldiers in the field.
An Ageless Challenge
Distribution of water from the brigade support area (BSA) to the individual Soldier always has been a challenge. The process starts in the field trains and extends forward to the company combat trains. Unit supply personnel traditionally maintain a large inventory of 5-gallon water cans to provide continuous water support to Soldiers. If 200 cans are required for a logistics package (LOGPAC) to resupply one infantry battalion in the field, a minimum of 400 cans must be maintained on hand, because another 200 cans must remain in the field trains for the next LOGPAC. The effort expended to collect the empty water cans and refill them in time for the next LOGPAC has been a constant headache for logisticians.
In an effort to improve logistics support to Soldiers, FORSCOM purchased three vertical form, fill, and seal machines from the General Packaging and Equipment Company in Houston, Texas. These water-packaging systems were built to military specifications and can produce 30,000 x 1-liter bags of water a day at a cost of 30 cents per bag. The filled bags are distributed to units in cardboard boxes that hold 16 bags each. According to the FORSCOM project officer for the water-packaging system, the systems have been used with great success to support military operations and exercises at different locations around the world, including Egypt, Hungary, and Thailand.
The water-packaging system also was used at JRTC in support of the 41st Separate Infantry Brigade's (SIB's) rotation in June 1998. The 41st SIB's S4 reported that the water-packaging system gave logisticians at JRTC a degree of flexibility they had not had before. The 1-liter and 6-gallon water bags bridged the water resupply gap between LOGPAC's and company combat trains. Supply personnel were freed from the burden of tracking 5-gallon water cans distributed among various units, and combat trains had two quick and efficient options for providing water to individual Soldiers. The bags also were ideal for units that pre-positioned or cached water in the field.
In addition to providing alternative water resupply methods for LOGPAC's, the water bags were especially effective for treating heat casualties at battalion aid stations in the 41st SIB's BSA at JRTC. Chilled 1-liter water bags provided relief to heat casualties and to Soldiers in casualty evacuation situations and mass casualty exercises. Frozen 1-liter water bags were crushed to break up the ice inside and create an ice pack that conformed to the contours of bruised and injured limbs.
Water bags packed in MRE boxes are more stable in a moving vehicle than 5-gallon cans with their high center of gravity.
Kicking the Can
While FORSCOM has been refining the individual 1-liter bag, several light infantry units have examined the 6-gallon water bag as another practical alternative to the 5-gallon can. Captain William M. Connor, Jr., has written an article about the success of the 2d Battalion, 27th Infantry, in using 6-gallon water bags during its JRTC rotation. See his article, "Water Resupply in the Light Infantry," in the July-December 1997 issue of Infantry magazine. That unit's experience sparked the interest of the 76th SIB (Light), an enhanced National Guard brigade based in Indiana. The 76th SIB is preparing for its JRTC rotation in the year 2000. Its 2-week annual training exercise at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, in July 1998 focused on a JRTC scenario. Water resupply was crucial during the exercise as daily temperatures soared into the 90's and humidity levels edged into the high 80's.
A Soldier from the 76th Separate Infantry Brigade (Light) fills his canteen from a 6-gallon water bag during annual training at Camp Atterbury, Indiana.
The brigade's 113th Support Battalion used three 600-gallons-per-hour reverse-osmosis water purification units (ROWPU's) to produce over 40,000 gallons of purified water to support the brigade. The ROWPU site produced the water and stored it in 3,000-gallon fabric bags. The water was pumped from the bags into 3,000-gallon semitrailer-mounted fabric tanks and transported to the BSA. It was distributed to the battalion field trains' 400-gallon water tanks at a water point collocated with the field ration break point. The water was transported from the BSA to the combat trains by LOGPAC. Instead of relying solely on 5-gallon water cans, the 1st Battalion, 152d Infantry, and 1st Battalion, 293d Infantry, supplemented their cans with 6-gallon water bags.
The S4 noncommissioned officer in charge of the 1st Battalion, 152d Infantry, read Captain Connor's water resupply article and contacted Parish Manufacturing, an Indianapolis-based company specializing in liquid-packaging products. The company designs packages for products such as milk, water, condiments, photo-development chemicals, and juice concentrates. Using an empty meal, ready-to-eat (MRE), box and a copy of Captain Connor's article as a guide, the company produced a 6-gallon-capacity bag made of linear, low-density, octane-based polyethylene with a 2-year shelf life. The bag was designed to fit inside an MRE box.
MRE boxes make perfect field-expedient containers. A 6-gallon bag of water can be unwieldy and tends to shift or roll on uneven surfaces. But the two-ply, 2.5-millimeter-thick bags are durable when packed in MRE boxes. For example, they withstood being dropped out of a UH-60 helicopter hovering 15 feet off the ground, pushed out of the back of high-mobility, multipurpose, wheeled vehicles (HMMWV's), and rolled down steep ravines and dragged back up by Soldiers. In addition, the 2d Battalion, 27th Infantry, successfully sling-loaded boxed water bags during its JRTC rotation.
In a static resupply situation, some units pulled the bag out of the box and left it on the tailgate of a vehicle while Soldiers filled their canteens. Other units preferred to keep the bag in a box. They cut a small hole in the box and let the tube stick out through the hole. To consolidate loose MRE's, LOGPAC personnel placed unboxed MRE's in black plastic trash bags and put the water bags in the empty MRE boxes.
The MRE boxes can be stacked in the back of a HMMWV or other resupply vehicle. They also are stable in a moving vehicle, unlike the 5-gallon water can with its high center-of-gravity. One additional benefit provided by the MRE box is its limited insulating capability. Several units placed their water bags in large, plastic trash bags with ice and slipped the combination into the MRE box. The water remained chilled for several hours.
Units have reported significant reductions in resupply times with the water bags, since they no longer have to inventory and transfer 5-gallon water cans. During annual training at Camp Atterbury, the 1st Battalion, 152d Infantry, cut its LOGPAC resupply times by as much as 25 minutes. Companies used a forward logistics assault team to resupply platoons and squads. When the tactical situation did not permit the resupply vehicle to stop, personnel dropped supplies out of the back of the vehicle at predesignated locations. The platoons or squads recovered their supplies and redistributed them at their convenience without having to track and maintain the 5-gallon water cans for exchange during the next resupply mission.
In addition to the variety of options packaged water provides logisticians, its cost makes it even more attractive. Budget-conscious leaders know that cost is a key issue for units deploying to the field. Bottled water can cost over 70 cents a liter, and commercial transportation costs raise the overall cost even higher. The military 5-gallon water can (national stock number 7240-00-089-3827) costs $9.24. A 1-liter water bag costs 30 cents. A 6-gallon water bag costs 62 cents. The low cost, simplicity, and versatility of bagged water makes it a winner with leaders, logisticians, and Soldiers alike.
The 6-gallon water bag comes with a plastic clip on the hose to keep water from leaking out.
The appeal of packaged water is not limited to military operations. A 6-gallon water bag could serve families and small groups of people better than the 1-gallon water jugs usually provided by relief organizations during floods, tornadoes, other natural disasters, and emergency situations.
A potential leadership challenge with water bags is trash in the field. Since the MRE boxes and water bags are disposable, their convenience may encourage Soldiers to toss them on the ground and forget about them. Empty boxes and bags should be collected and disposed of properly. The solution to this issue is training, individual solider discipline, thorough policing in the field, and supervision by noncommissioned officers.
Although the 5-gallon water can still is useful, the Army is taking steps to capitalize on the versatility of packaged water. Its potential in both water resupply and field medical care is especially appealing. The low cost and flexibility of 1-liter and 6-gallon water bags for military operations make them an attractive option for logisticians. The expendable nature of MRE boxes and water bags reduces the inventory challenges and clutter that supply personnel have dealt with in the past. The demonstrated success of packaged water in the field makes it a viable alternative to the 5-gallon water can for water resupply at the unit level. ALOG
A Light Infantry Captain writes:
"Already used the the past two Annual Training periods. It has some draw backs, but they saved our rear ends last month!
I pushed to get these in the battalion last year. Unfortunately, the Supply SGTs didn't know how to properly construct the MRE Box water can. They attempted to fill the bags FIRST and then get them in the box. in some cases, they didn't even tape the boxes shut. The results were predictable and the reviews were negative.
We tried again this year. We didn't receive a horde of water cans we'd ordered early in the year and did a JRTC-style movement from Camp Robinson (ISB) to Ft Chaffee (the Box) with 3 days supply of water and MREs for a maneuver battalion via sling load as part of our airmobile insertion. This time, I gave a block of instruction to the detail charged with putting these water bags together. We palletized them with other water cans and cases of MREs. (Also, bear in mind that this was the first time ever that we'd conducted an airmobile operation, let alone rigging a sling loading every aircraft that would take a sling).
The bags held up to the stress. They were slung in, pallets broken down by an LZ detail an loaded on 5t Trucks (almost throwing them in some cases). The trucks traveled up some of the roughest roads on the southeast side of Chaffee and deliverd the water forward. The water arrived just in time to supply our rifle companies who were aggressively pursuing OPFOR and before the Spt bn could get a sizable CSS footprint in the AO to sustain us.
We established a battalion cache of water in our OSB that afternoon and once the CSS tail was alive and kicking, we used it as an emergency reserve. A small stack of the bags remained at the cache until we jumped several days later into the defense. Many of the boxes had deteriorated, but the bags held up!
Some tips gained from our experience:
1. Having enough MRE boxes to put these bags into the chain may pose a problem, especially early in the operation. Alternatives: dump ALL MRE boxes into other containers (Aviator Kit Bags, duffle bags, etc....we don't pack 9 MREs per man on our soldiers' backs like some units because of the weight issue) and convert them to water bag storage. We had units saving boxes as early as Feb in anticipation of using them in June. We scavanged boxes from the ISB DFAC and bearly had enough. Also, back hauling MRE boxes to place in service for the bags can pose a problem. Units were still in the custom of tossing them in the trash or using them as trash recepticles. This renders the boxes useless for health reasons. Establish an SOP to keep the boxes separate and have it STRICLTY enforced. Also, keep plenty of 90-mph tape on hand to rig the boxes.
2. If you use the boxes to transfer into other recepticles (i.e. refill water cans, etc) it is faster to pull the "nipple plug" rather than to cut the nipple. The water rushes out about as fast as it comes our of a water buffalo spout.
3. According to Spt Bn reps I spoke with at the 76th eSB, if you care for the bags, you can use them about 2-3 times before you DX them. Establish a marking system. Use a broad tip alcohol pen an write down the DTG the bag was filled. Next time around, line thru the DTG and record the next DTG. After 3 DTGs, cut the bag open and use it as a trash bag.
4. The bags are labor intensive. They make a good sub for water cans, but many old Soldiers prefer the can. The bags take time/energy to assemble and are harder to fill becasue the fill hole is smaller than a water can. There's little that can be done to fix the assembly process other than to get the Support Battalion to do it or have a daily detail do it inthe Field Trains. Filling is easier is you pack a water hose that fits the spouts on your water buffalo. Add a sprayer handle to the hose to control water flow at the running end of the hose. This will allow you to stack the boxes in a line and one man fill them more rapidly. Otherwise, you'll have to have a two-man crowd at each spout, one holding up the bag and the other filling it. This is a very awkward process.
5. There is a particular method for assembling and filling the bags. if not done right, it will cause the bags to fail. I plan to put an illustrated set of instructions together on how to assemble them. I'll send an e-copy.
6. Be advised, you can almost cram SIX gallons in these bags. Typically, we found 5-6 gallons in each bag when we dumped them into 5-gal water cans. As a rule of thumb, each box will weigh in at 50 lbs due to the added water (important when computing for air transport.)"
Major Robert O. Bosworth is a resident training detachment battalion team chief assigned to the 113th Support Battalion of the 76th Separate Infantry Brigade (Light), Indiana National Guard, as part of the Active Component/Reserve Component program. He has an M.S. degree from Towson University in Maryland and is a graduate of the Armor Officer Basic Course, the Quartermaster Officer Advanced Course, and the Army Command and General Staff College.
The author wishes to thank Steve Mayerhoefer, Major Kimberly Wilson, Captain William M. Connor, Jr., Sergeant First Class Thomas DeKemper, and John Billheimer for their assistance in preparing this article.
Captain William M. Connor, Jr. is Company Commander of "B" Company, 4th Ranger Training Brigade at Ft. Benning, GA. (706) 544-6068 DSN 784- FAX: 6276 . He has served as Company Commander "C" 2/27 IN, platoon leader, XO, and Battalion S-4. 1990 ROTC graduate of The Citadel, IOBC, Ranger and Airborne schools.