News: Helmets of gold, nerves of steel
Story by Sgt. Edwin Rodriguez
CHEATHAM ANNEX NAVAL STATION, Va. - A yellow sphere, saturated enough to be seen miles away, breaks the surface of the water relieving anyone’s worry on board; or maybe that’s the thought process of an outsider. It is a cloudy 28-degrees Fahrenheit while on the vessel with wind gust upwards of 35 knots. Imagine how much colder the water is. The diver straddles the vessel ramp, making his way on to his knees, and is then helped by his line tender. He waddles his way towards the bench where another team member is ready to help get the diver’s wet suit and helmet off. As the hat comes off, the first thing you recognize is his smile as he signals the dive tender and says ‘OK!’
Where is the drama, the high speed action, anger and frustration? They seem as cool and at ease as a stone in a lake, a pine in a forest or a diver in the water.
The team of divers, supervisors and potential master divers, assigned to the 511th Dive Detachment, Special Troops Battalion, 7th Sustainment Brigade, were evaluated on how successfully they could operate when normal dive operations go awry. This was the end of the first week of three where the detachment’s main goal for the exercise was to ready potential master divers in the unit.
“This training is for our diving supervisors and our master diver candidates. We will simulate emergencies and the diving supervisor will have to react,” said 1st Lt. Mark Golay, detachment XO. “You will see them extract the divers, put them on the backboard and rush them to the decompression chamber. It is all in an effort to test the skills of a diving supervisor. ”
All the dives will be performed from the deck of a Landing Craft Utility 2004, ‘Aldie’, commanded by Chief Warrant Officer Terry Senn. Each LCU has a ramp at its bow that lowers into the water allowing immediate access to the York River. On the same level are large connex-sized containers holding a FADS system, and decompression chamber.
“We have a FADS 3 (Fly- Away Diving System) that sends high pressure air to an air control console, then to the dive helmets,” said Staff Sgt. Brian Winter, a dive detachment sergeant “.We can send them air (nitrogen oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other trace elements) or just oxygen”
As the lead and standby divers are in there dressing rooms, preparing for the big show, Spc.Thomas Dougherty, a team member prepares for all the necessary checks before the arrival of the divers.
“We are running air to the helmets to check for leaks, so the air can be delivered to them in a safe manner,” said Dougherty. “Then the divers will come out here, where we will ‘hat’ them. Run through the safety checks, looking for leaks in helmets, suits and emergency gas supplies. After that’s done, we get them in the chairs for the supervisor brief then get them in the water.
The dive detachment is made up of both enlisted Soldiers and officers, but the bulk of the work comes from the privates, private first classes and specialists, said Golay. The sergeants are the salvage divers, while the staff sergeants and sergeant first classes are the diving supervisors. Overall it takes about a half hour to go through the emergency action plan, the dive job itself, the overall situation and safety checks to ensure the divers are safe while in the water.
Try to ask any diver onboard and they will not admit to having any fear. As an observer it is hard to believe those opinions, but they exude so much confidence that is impossible to not believe them. That is faith. The same faith they have in each other when a buddy of theirs’ is in the water.
The two divers are prepared and ready to go. The lead diver is escorted to the end of the ramp and ‘Splash’ he is in the water. The standby diver goes next after the scenario calls for the standby to check on the lead diver who is trapped under some logs. Then more malfunctions occurred which tested the supervisors and master divers wisdom and ingenuity. The lead diver was ok, however, the stand by diver, Spc. Jacob Feyers, ascended and complained about numbness in his ankle.
It was all part of the scenario, but the weather and the cold waters were not; the elements were in full gear. It is March, and in many places in the US, the waters are still pretty cold.
“It’s cold, dark, wet, uncomfortable, but there is no place I would rather be. I was real close to the other diver, but we can’t see each other at all. All we can do is at least put one hand on each other.
After a run through the decompression chamber, the scenario is complete. Ten minutes later, Feyers is told to suit up again. Has the fear or at least annoyance set in?
“I felt great, especially with the equipment we are wearing. I was fortunate enough to not have a leak in my suit. Put me back in, I am good to go!”
After a couple of more dives you notice how precise they are in their execution, how detailed they are in the planning, and most importantly, how instinctively they watch out for each other. Maybe these exercises erase any timid emotions they may have. If there were any doubts about their indomitable spirit, Feyers finally made it clear.
“I am not nervous at all. I have the right training, and the schooling itself is extensive. I know every person here will have my back. You have to trust them like family. You have to trust your buddy on the console will supply your air; my tender will not let me fall. Everyone will know what to do in an emergency. Nerves, not so much; it’s just another day at the office.”