Soldiers of the Tennessee National Guard's 775th Engineering Detachment, working in Djibouti, welcomed their commander, Brig. Gen. Robert Harris, to the Horn of Africa, who visited in late February to see the his troops’ living and working conditions.

Harris spent the day touring the Dikhil region of Djibouti, where his guardsmen have been deployed since September, and saw first-hand how they are making an impact.

The 775th Eng. is a well-drilling unit and part of the 194th Engineering Battalion, which falls under the Tennessee Army National Guard from Jackson, Tenn. The detachment’s primary goal is to drill six wells for Djiboutian villages.

"Water is a valuable resource here in the Horn of Africa," says Staff Sgt. Timothy Michael, a driller assigned to the 775th Eng. "The Djiboutian people live simple lives, just trying to survive from day to day. The surface wells often carry contaminants that cause sickness, and they dry up in the summer. They know that if we can drill a well that produces water year-round, their lives will be more stable and water will be safer for their families to drink. They will be able to grow crops, feed their families and live where they want to. Without water, they are forced to move somewhere if they want to survive."

 On the one-day trip, Harris visited one well site that produces salt water. Michael began troubleshooting the well, and called back to engineers in the United States for opinions.

Michael has been with the 775th since 1988. This tour marks his third deployment, and his experiences have taught him how it's possible for an inland well to produce salt water.

"Most of the ground aquifers here produce salt water. This is unusable, so we have to find fresh water. There isn't much that we can do other than drill another well, more shallow and closer to the Wadi – a dry riverbed that is only wet during periods of rainfall," Michael says. "At this point, the community is using the well for washing clothes and bathing.

"We also have to finish the well and make it as easily maintainable as possible. Africans cannot just run down to the local market to get a replacement part if something breaks," Michael notes.

The 775th Eng. is deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, and is scheduled to return to Tennessee in September.