By Wyatt Huggett
Expeditionary Combat Camera
KEY WEST, Fla. – Navy Divers traded white snow for white sands, clear water, and diving and are now one step closer for deploying having completed their unit level training in Key West, Fla., Feb. 1-24.
Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 2’s MDS Co. 2-3 and MDS Co. 2-4 both left snow ridden Virginia Beach, Va. earlier this month and were able to reach deeper and more advanced dives in Key West as the local conditions typically provide a safe visibility range of 50 feet between trainee’s and facilitators.
“[Key West] gives our divers concentrated training away from home as well as an environment that enables them to see what correct procedures look like when they’re in the water,” says Chief Warrant Officer 3 James J. Hordinski, training and readiness officer at MDSU2. “If they ever encounter problems they will know what ‘right’ looks like and how to handle those issues.”
This unit level training is important for the MDS Companies as they advance towards certification through MDSU2 and become ready to deploy.
“This is part of their fleet readiness training plan each mobile dive and salvage company goes through in preparation for upcoming deployments,” says Hordinski.
“We have to continue to train so that we can maintain a standard in all aspects of our operations and our mission requirements,” says Hordinski. “We have to be able to fulfill all mission areas at all times so this training is to develop and sustain the skill sets required to complete that mission.”
During their time in Key West, divers trained with a variety of dive rigs to demonstrate proficiency on equipment they may use while operating in a deployed environment.
“In Key West, we are doing a mixture of different types of diving; surface supplied air diving, surface supplied mixed gas diving, MK16 diving, and SCUBA,” said Navy Diver 2nd Class Jonathan Pounders, a diver assigned to MDS Co. 2-3.
During mixed gas dives, for example, divers use a helium and oxygen mixture (HeO2) to submerge to deeper depths. With this type of diving, Navy Divers must slowly ascend to the surface to allow their bodies to decompress and acclimate safely.
“Many times, things that need to be salvaged out of the ocean are deep, and with that kind of diving come decompression obligations,” said Pounders.
Senior Chief Navy Diver Steve Askew, MDS Co. 2-3 master diver, explains the importance of mastering all dive stations whether it’s the dive rigs themselves, operating the console that supplies the diver’s air, supervising the dive, or tending the divers. “The team needs to function as a unit to make sure everyone is trained so we can effectively go out and complete missions.”
No matter what station they operated, all Navy Divers conducted an average of three to five dives a day while descending to depths below 100 feet, where HeO2 is needed, and to as deep as 195 feet to successfully complete their unit level training as a team.
While diving in any capacity can be dangerous, the steps taken to properly train and build the confidence of Navy Divers mitigates many of the hazards divers face in real world salvage operations.
“During any dive the dangers range from injury, decompression sickness, arterial gas embolisms, as well as a myriad of things that are well defined within the [U.S. Navy] dive manual,” says Hordinski. “We do our best to ensure that the divers’ heads are in the game during any dive operation. The training prepares them for the operational situations that they may encounter along the road.”
Navy Divers observe strict standards when conducting dive operations where safety is routine and reinforced throughout their careers.
“Being safe is the most important part of the training, it takes the entire team, everybody is here to ensure all the divers are getting the best training while being as safe as possible,” says Askew.
Navy Divers trained aboard the rescue and salvage ship USNS Grapple (T-ARS 53). Grapple, one of four Navy rescue and salvage ships owned by Military Sealift Command, is operated by 26 civil service mariners and four military personnel.
“We wouldn’t be doing the training without Grapple,” said Pounders. “It’s home base, it’s where we plan our dives, and it’s where we execute our dives. Everything that we are doing out here is based off this ship.”
“Grapple provides fixed support for diving operations,” says Timothy Kelly, ship’s master. “We have a recompression chamber, we have wenches that will raise and lower the diving stages, we are able to recover heavy materials off the bottom using our 40-ton boom and we have berthing available to support a mobile dive and salvage team.”
Having completed their unit level training milestone, MDS Co. 2-3 and MDS Co. 2-4 will now prepare for their final evaluation problem scheduled for later this spring.
MDSU 2 is an expeditionary mobile unit homeported at Joint Expeditionary Base, Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia Beach, Va. They previously conducted successful salvage operations supporting TWA Flight 800, Swiss Air Flight 111, the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, the I-35W Mississippi River bridge collapse in Minnesota, the Civil War ironclads USS Monitor, CSS Georgia, and recovery of downed F-16Cs off the coast of Italy and Virginia.