News: Working Below the Surface
Story by Spc. Megan Burnham
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba – The average time a recreational scuba diver can safely stay underwater is approximately 30 to 60 minutes. For some divers, that is not enough time to observe and experience all that the underwater world provides at Guantanamo Bay. If that is the case, one might consider the life of a Navy Seabee Diver with U.S. Naval Underwater Construction Team One from Little Creek, Va.
"This is an excellent area for diving," said Petty Officer 1st Class William Butcher of UCT 1. "You have a lot of shallow water diving, low visibility diving and very clear, deep water diving. It's a good training environment and the water's so great that we can have a three-hour bottom time without getting cold."
UCT 1 consists of approximately 60 to 65 personnel, with 35 to 40 qualified Navy divers who specialize as basic underwater construction technicians or first-class diver underwater construction advanced technicians. They are a component of the Naval Construction Force who apply these skills to a variety of construction projects in the ocean environment.
"We're in the Navy as a specialized part of the Seabees," Butcher said. "Regular Seabees do vertical construction on land and we do underwater construction. Our area of expertise is waterfront facilities. We can build, repair or destroy any waterfront or deep ocean facility."
Their mission for the past two weeks here was to conduct an elevated causeway site survey on the Leeward side, which included rapid penetration tests to determine the stability of the soil, the soil classification and its density.
"It's basically driving three-fourths inch rods into the earth, below the surface of the water," Butcher said. "In order for the area where the elevated causeway is determined to be built, the soil has to meet a certain criteria."
The elevated causeway can be imagined as a portable pier where there is not a permanent pier available.
"Its professional term is an elevated causeway system modular," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Chris Hefner. "It's used for the quick offload of cargo in-theater or wherever one is needed."
When the project first began, a side-scan sonar survey was conducted to identify any large anomalies that might interfere with the construction of the elevated causeway. Following was a bathometric survey that provided a topographic map that showed how deep the water was in the construction area.
"When we first arrived, the ferry had lost a rudder, but we were able to recover it for them [using the side-scan sonar]," said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher Munch, subject matter expert on the bathometric and side-scan sonar equipment. "Finding it saved an estimated cost of $10,000, so the [side-scan sonar] is pretty useful in that."
Other equipment used for the project consisted of a BR-67 jack-hammer used in the rapid penetration tests and the MK-21 dive helmet.
"[The divers] dove surface-supply where the air system is on top of the boat where an umbilical is attached to the dive helmet that feeds them the air," Butcher said. "We also have communications [in the helmet] so we can talk back and forth to the divers. It's very important when you're using hydraulic power tools underwater."
The divers' uniform consisted simply of a T-shirt and shorts along with the MK-21 dive helmet. They also wore weighted dive boots with steel toes to protect the divers' feet and ensure they remain firmly on the bottom during the rapid penetration tests.
"The water was really warm and there weren't many hydroids or jellyfish to contend with," Butcher said. "With the amount of time the divers spent in the water, they didn't get too cold or too hot, so just diving in shorts and a T-shirt was ideal."
The results from the testing show that the soil in the construction area is solid enough to install the elevated causeway. Despite the team finishing this project, UCT 1 may return to work on other projects.
"As you're riding the ferry to Leeward, to the left are some concrete piles sticking up out of the water," Butcher said. "There's talk of us coming back down to remove those and also do some repairs to existing facilities in the water here. There's also a good chance we'll be able to conduct our divers' training down here again."
"There's still a lot of work for us to do here," said Chief Petty Officer Dennis Bergman. "So now it looks like we got the green light to start coming back down here. The base will be seeing a lot more of us."