BAGHDAD - With only a few inches of underwater visibility and treacherous currents that run through the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, there is no room for error. For the men of the search and recovery teams who patrol Iraq’s rivers, getting the best training possible is paramount and a matter of life and death.
Thirty-three students from the Iraqi river police graduated from the three-month Baghdad River Police Training Center’s Dive, Search and Recovery Course, Sept. 15.
The DSRC runs similarly to a U.S. military class and uses a crawl-walk-run format.
“There are four stages of the course: one month of in-class instruction, 15 days of basic diving skills in a swimming pool, 15 days of lake diving, and one month in the final stage of open-water diving in the river,” said Ahmad Alwazan, an Iraqi water-borne instructor with seven years’ experience in the Baghdad River Police.
“Each stage of the course has it’s own difficulties,” he said, “but we are breaking them down to ensure everyone knows the information.”
The most difficult portion of the course for the students is the in-class instruction, said George McGinty, a civilian adviser for the BRPTC.
“They are in the classroom for about a month so they can learn about dive physiology,” he said. “It’s not a matter of getting in the water and breathing; you have to understand physics and decompression tables.”
“The hardest part of the class for me was the in-class instruction,” said 2nd Lt. Talib Salaman, a student with two years’ experience as an investigative officer with the Karbala River Police. “It is very technical and there is a lot of science to diving.”
With the course’s high standards and even higher physical demands, the BRPTC graduated 94 percent of its original class size.
“That’s pretty good,” said McGinty. “This course is very challenging and some of these guys couldn’t swim when they first got here.”
This is the ninth and largest class that has graduated from the Dive, Search and Recovery Course and the last that will have American civilians acting in the advisory role.
“Our job is to mentor the Iraqis,” said McGinty. “They’re doing it all on their own now.”
“Diving is a science and it is always developing and advancing forward,” said Alwazan. “The Americans are helping us get diving equipment and up-to-date information with dive books to increase our dive knowledge.”
Soon, the 33 newly certified Dive, Search and Recovery river policemen will return to their home provinces. From Mosul to Basrah, these men will risk their lives in Iraq’s rivers to search and recover everything from bodies to weapons used in crimes.