BELLE FOURCHE — Once again, the South Dakota Army National Guard along with the Bureau of Reclamation have invited units from all across the country to participate in the annual Golden Coyote training exercise. 

Golden Coyote was created in 1984 by the Guard, the National Forest Service, and Custer State Park. The program affords service members throughout the country with hands-on training to better prepare them for the tactical necessities to help support overseas contingency operations and domestic defense.

Nearly 200 service members have been bivouacked near the Fruitdale area since Saturday as a base of operations while the two participating companies conduct their real-world training simulations around the Belle Fourche reservoir.

One of those companies is the 1970th Quarter Master Company out of Illinois. The 1970th is a relatively new company that’s only been around for about two years.

“Most of them are privates and specialists,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Herzfeldt. “They just went through basic, they just finished their AIT (advanced individual training), and this is their first unit, and this is our first AT (annual training).”

Herzfeldt said that this week during Golden Coyote, the company will be training on the ROWPU (reverse osmosis water purification unit) system.

“Quartermasters are the guys that do logistical supplies and support,” he explained. “Our support is water purification.”

Sgt. Ramon Salibellas explained that the ROWPU system can purify 3,000 gallons of water per hour through a special five-stage filtration process. The purified water is then pumped into four 3,000-gallon “onion bags”, which are then hooked up to a four-nozzle pump station that resembles a gas station nozzle.

“So the soldiers can fill up their canteen or water buffalos,” he explained.

 The system will also analyze the water’s content and inform the company how much chemical should be added to make the water safe for consumption versus other needs.

“The machine does pretty much all the work,” Salibellas said. “So if we as a team (can keep) the machine operational; that’s all I ask of my soldiers. (As long as) we can produce water, let’s take out the grill, let’s take out the poles, the mission is complete.”

This is Herzfeldt’s third year participating in Golden Coyote, and he said even though this is the first annual training exercise for his company, he’s been very pleased with their performance.

“Everybody’s doing a really great job. I’m really proud of this whole company, they’re great.”

Herzfeldt said hands on training with the equipment in the field is paramount to the success of any future assignments the company may be sent on; whether it be a water purification system, or something a bit more hot and heavy.

“We could give you the video game M-16 to shoot, but unless you fire the M-16 it’s not the same thing,” he said.

And just as trips to the shooting range get soldiers the training they need on an M-16, becoming proficient with a 3,000 gallon per hour water filtration system requires field training on a scale that can only be achieved by programs like Golden Coyote.

“Right now is our chance to get our equipment running, make sure everything’s squared away,” Herzfeldt explained. “They don’t want to send you anywhere you won’t be successful. So it’s important to get it done now and make sure the equipment’s good.”

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