Soldiers with Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa helped give the gift of potable water to villagers in Djibouti this December by assisting locals fix a leak in their one and only source of drinking water.

Located in East Africa, Djibouti only sees around 5 inches of rainfall each year, making any reliable water source as precious as gold. And Chabelley, a village in the semi-arid Arta region of Djibouti, is the home of nearly 1,000 inhabitants, all relying on their well.

“This well is the only water source for quite a few miles,” 1st Lt. James Fortson, construction management officer for the 712th Engineer Support Company, said in an Army press release. “Outside the rainy season, water is hard to come by out here.”

While the task force had been tracking the well leak for several months, it wasn’t until soldiers with the 712th ESC arrived to Camp Lemonnier that they had personnel with the skills needed to help.

Fortson said the culprit was a mismatched coupling on a pipe, causing water to steadily leak from the well.

Sgt. Beau Heithoff, a task force engineer specialist and a combat engineer with the Nebraska Army National Guard, said fixing the well became a team effort with the villagers.

Heithoff, who also works as a plumber on the civilian side of his life, helped instruct soldiers and locals alike while they dug trenches, moved rocks, pulled up the old pipe and fixed the broken coupling responsible for the leak.

“With the right supplies and the skills, everyone was able to do their part,” Heithoff said.

The repairs ultimately took less than a day, and to Fortson, the task showed just how important local relations are for soldiers abroad.

“Our effort is about much more than fixing a well,” Fortson said. “It is about demonstrating that we care about our partners, and that we want our relationship to last.”

Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, headquartered at Camp Lemonnier, combines sailors, soldiers, Marines and airmen to promote regional stability and protect U.S. and coalition interests in the region.

Rachel is a Marine Corps veteran and a master's candidate at New York University's Business & Economic Reporting program.

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