Army Lieutenant Helps Afghan Women Bring Clean Water Home
Lauren Luckey has returned to Afghanistan for another tour of duty.
Lauren Luckey might have been designated as her battalion's chemical officer, but just about the only chemical she's been working with in Afghanistan has been H2O.
Luckey, who moved to Alpharetta, GA, with her mother and stepdad after being born and raised in Tennessee, has been helping women in Afghanistan gain some family power by teaching them how to use water filters.
She was chosen as the Huffington Post Greatest Person of the Day on Feb. 1.
As a member of ROTC at the University of Massachusetts, she was commissioned and went straight into the U.S. Army after graduation. Her unit, the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, went to Hawaii in February 2011.
She was sitting on her bed one night in April 2011 when her phone dinged, signaling an incoming email that told her she was deploying to Afghanistan in a month.
"I was just amazed by her. She's doing a lot of good in a bad situation," said her mother, Amy Paul, during her daughter's recent visit on leave.
When she first heard her daughter was being deployed, she told one of her co-workers who was formerly in the military that Lauren was going to Afghanistan.
"He looked at me and said she's well-trained, prepared to go. And that's what you have to believe," her mother said. "Every phone call or email is a blessing, that's how I look at it."
Lauren Luckey said she "can only imagine how that phone call can feel. This is my job and I expect it... You guys have to sit there at home and have to hope that we are safe."
Since arriving in Afghanistan, Luckey has been part of her batallion's female engagement team. The lieutenant said it's something started by the Marines in the past few years in the southern part of Afghanistan.
"We're sending out infantry, but we are missing 50 percent of the population," Luckey explained. "How can we really reach 100 percent?"
She's been responsible for searching Afghan women for explosives, weapons and other contraband. The Taliban have used women to hide things, as they didn't believe male soldiers would search them. A female soldier avoids cultural taboos by doing the searches.
But it's not just about that kind of mission. Luckey also helps by going to clinics to help the women with their healthcare and personal hygiene, and to schools.
"Education is the future in Afghanistan," she said.
She got involved in helping the women provide their families with safe water because one of her company commanders was reading a surfing magazine when he spotted something about water filters by Waves 4 Water. The two founders of Waves 4 Water flew out to Afghanistan to give them a class on the water filters so they could go out and teach others. They brought 200 of the water filters with them.
"We don't have a cure for cancer, AIDS, things like that, but we can give people fresh water," Luckey said.
"This will empower the women of Afghanistan again," she said.
Women get all the family's water from a river to cook, clean and take care of their children. So she sits down with the women and shows them how to put together the filters, filter the water and then drink it.
"This is going to be something they can kind of hold over their husbands," Luckey said
For the first time in their lives the women can say they are not going to be sick, they won't have dysentery, kidney stones or worms. It takes just two weeks of drinking unfiltered water to be really sick, she said.
"Let's take this and just empower a village of women, one village at a time," Luckey said. "And you know, it seems to be working."
Luckey admits when she went to the river with the women to get water and put it into the filter, she was hesitant about taking that first drink. She had to put the same trust into the water filter that she was asking the Afghan women to do.
"One of the husbands the next day came to the base, and said his wife sat up with women of the village and made water all night, laughing," Luckey said.
"Even the principal when we left said you need two things to live: You need air and need water, and you've given us one of them," she said.
"The Taliban can't compete with that. We are giving them fresh water that's sustainable for years," Luckey said. "I think it's really a turning point for us up in northern Kunar. It's a game changer.
"You can go out and crush like 100 terrorists in a day, but at the same time go out the next day and provide clean drinking water to an entire village," she said.
Not many people get to see both sides of the war.
Now the water filter program has gone beyond her battalion. Before she went on leave, she briefed every commander in the task force about the water filter, explaining where it worked well for them and what a benefit it was. She said they'll see if they can spread it throughout all of northern Afghanistan, and then the rest of the country.
Luckey said she always wanted to be in the military. When she was playing club soccer a friend's dad was an officer in the military, and she looked up to him.