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Drinking From Socks

KHAN NESHIN, Afghanistan– If the amount of water troops consume daily is one good indicator of the rigors of summer combat duty, then this isolated outpost in southern Helmand Province is surely one of the most arduous postings in the entire United States military.


August 28, 2009, 3:00 am
By Rich Oppel

The Marines here are allotted three cases of water per day – that’s three dozen ½-liter bottles, or more than four gallons. Marines on long patrols often drink more than that, grabbing extras from supplies allocated to men who stay on base.

That may seem extreme, but it is necessary for Marines who carry out foot patrols wearing body armor, a helmet, ammunition clips and carrying a rifle in some of the hottest temperatures on earth.

“There are guys who might think drinking two cases a day is enough, but in 120-degree heat and wearing a flak jacket, that is not enough,” said Navy Lt. Scott Fell, D.O., medical officer for the Marines’ Second Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. In addition to drinking enough water, he instructs Marines to never skip breakfast. “If your pee is not light yellow or clear, you are not drinking enough.”

All of this raises another issue: In a place where afternoon temperatures are typically 120 degrees to 130 degrees – and stocks of water can reach the same temperature – how do you drink that much?

“The water gets so hot you don’t want to drink it,” said Cpl. Charles Dampier, 28, from Gainesville, Fla.

This base has a refrigerated container where Marines can swap out some of their allocation every day for cool water. But for Marines standing post or stationed at a handful of even more austere outposts arrayed outside Khan Neshin there is only one option: sock water.

Sock water, and a grateful wild rabbit nicknamed Roger.
It’s a simple contraption: A sock is hung on rope or string in the shade. A water bottle is placed inside. The sock is then soaked with water from another bottle.

As the water evaporates and the sock dries, the bottle inside cools by as much as thirty degrees, said Lance Cpl. Cory Bennett, 20, from Baton Rouge, La., who distributes water to the Marines here.

Some Marines also punch a small hole in the cap of a water bottle, turn it upside down and place it on top of the bottle already in the sock, guaranteeing a steady stream of water so they don’t have to worry about continually wetting the sock.

It’s hardly a trick unique to the Marines: Local Pashtun and Baluch tribesmen stretch pieces of cloth over large jugs and cool water the same way.

The temperature differential makes all the difference for water that has been sitting in the blazing sun or stored atop the Marines’ light armored vehicles.

“It’s not cold” after getting the sock-water treatment, Lance Corporal Bennett said. “But it’s not so hot that it burns your mouth, either.”