Army Deep Sea divers are a small and elite group of soldiers trained in many facets of diving including covert reconnaissance, clearance, ordnance and salvage.
Before we go into more detail, it helps to understand difference between dive units and dive qualifications. Army Deep Sea Divers are part of engineering units such as 7th Dive group. Whereas qualifications are skillsets developed by attending a dive school, meaning soldiers and even other DoD and even NATO personnel can attend schools like the engineer dive school in Panama City or the Special Forces dive school in Key West. Here we’ll talk about the engineer divers doing typically deep sea work. There are only about 150 army deep sea divers to the need to deploy globally in support of wartime or peacetime efforts is robust.
Additionally, divers are usually working alone at extreme depths in pitch black so it can be like working on another planet. This means the ability to control your mind and not panic is as critical as the physical demands on a diver which is immense, including daily PT, bay swims, underwater knot tying and ‘hits’, where cadre or instructors tear off your gear underwater to simulate disruption and disorientate you.
For this reason, cadre in Phase I at Fort Leonard Wood (where selection takes place) look for ‘bolters’ or people that will crack under pressure. Panic can cause someone to race for the surface too quickly for example, leaving potentially fatal expanding gasses in their body. Master Divers create a list of those most likely to bolt and if you’re on it – you probably aren’t going to phase II.
Phase II starts in Panama City, where master diver instructors begin further selecting out divers who have what it takes to operate calmly in hostile waters potentially hundreds of feet under water.
Going too deep can have the opposite effect. Nitrogen narcosis can set in below 130 feet where divers routinely dive and effectively gets you high, or what divers call the ‘martini effect’. Divers have drowned going too deep and running out of air – not to mention burning too much air and not enough time to ascend properly can lead to an embolism or serious decompression sickness.
All of this rigorous selection is important, because since Army divers began performing missions as part of special operations units in World War II, the instructors claim not a single diver has died in a mission-related accident – although there have been some close calls.
Training for emergencies is important as well, divers are often tasked with performing salvage off a sunken vessel, and these rusting, fractured remains of a vessel can be a potential death trap. Share edges from a wreckage can puncture a diver’s umbilical cord and breathing source. Once in salvaging a submarine, air pockets from released gasses began to collect under a silted sea bottom and collapse of that bubble can cause potentially massive metal salvage structures to crash down – pinning you to the ocean floor.
Following phase II, divers conduct a 6 week underwater demolition program learning how to remotely and covertly destroy maritime structures. In the end, Army Deep Sea divers are incredibly valuable military assets utilized globally because they dare to go where few are willing.
In the end, Army Deep Sea divers are incredibly valuable military assets utilized globally because they dare to go where few are willing.
U.S. Army Diver