Airman walks on water
By Senior Airman Bryan Swink, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
/ Published July 26, 2012
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- As temperatures surpass 100 degrees here at the 379th AEW, the demand for drinkable water significantly increases. With more than 1.3 million bottles of water consumed at this installation every month, the importance of having safe drinking water is mission critical.
Imagine the impact on the mission if a batch of water contained bacteria or did not meet Air Force standards. Serious illness and significant loss of production would follow.
That's where Senior Airman Ryan Smith comes in.
Smith, the 379th Expeditionary Medical Group Bioenvironmental environmental program manager, ensures all water consumed by service members is bacteria free, processed safely and adheres to Air Force Central standards. He conducts bacteriological tests on every batch of water received.
"I go to the civil engineer water tent and pull four bottles at random from every production date," said Smith, stationed at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. "At times, we can receive up to 60 pallets of bottled water from every production date."
After bottles are randomly pulled, they are taken back to the lab to get tested. Each bottle is labeled and identified by which lot it originated from. With gloves on to prevent contaminating any samples, Smith begins the testing.
He mixes a packet of agar with the water samples to cultivate the growth of any possible bacteria living within the water. The sample is placed into an incubation chamber for 24 hours, and heat is applied to further cultivate potential growth of bacteria.
If a sample comes back positive for bacteria or ecoli, the water color will turn from a clear illumination to various tints of yellow.
"I've been here for two months and we haven't had a single abnormality in the water," said Smith. "Every test has come back clear and free of any bacteria."
After each lot of water has been cleared and deemed safe for consumption, Smith marks the pallet of water with a large, yellow 'C'.
He doesn't just test for bacteria within drinking water. He also conducts pH and chlorine testing and led and copper surveillance sampling of all water sources. Random samples are taken from all faucets, cadillacs, dining facilities and various locations across the base. Additionally, he tests the water at the swimming pools as well. The water here is guaranteed safe!
"Senior Airman Smith runs the most important program on this base," said Capt. Stephanie Harley, 379th EMDG Bioenvironmental Engineering element chief. "Without safe drinking water, the base couldn't operate. His efforts have a direct impact on executing the Air Tasking Orders."
Smith's job requires him to be focused and pay attention to detail. With millions of bottles of water being consumed every month, there is no room for error.