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NEWS | March 19, 2013

Helmets of gold, nerves of steel

By Sgt. Edwin J. Rodriguez 7th Sustainment Brigade Public Affairs

It's a chilling 28 degrees Fahrenheit on the vessel with wind gusts upwards of 35 knots. The standby diver is prepared and ready to go; his mission is to rescue the lead diver, who is trapped beneath the water under logs.

With a loud splash, the standby diver is immersed. The crew anxiously awaits the divers' return, hoping for the best outcome.

Moments later, a yellow sphere breaks the surface of the water, disrupting the reflected image of the cloudy skies above. One can only imagine how cold the water is as the divers straddle the vessel ramp, helped up by their line tender.

U.S. Army Spc. Jacob Feyers waddles his way towards the bench where another team member is ready to help get the diver's wet suit and helmet off. He has complained about numbness in his ankle.

This was all part of a training scenario conducted March 6 by a team of divers, supervisors and potential master divers, assigned to the 511th Dive Detachment, Special Troops Battalion, 7th Sustainment Brigade.

The team was evaluated on how successfully they could operate when normal dive operations go awry.

"It's cold, dark, wet and uncomfortable, but there is no place I would rather be," said Feyers.

As part of a three-week exercise, the goal of this scenario was to ready the detachment's potential master divers.

"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 U.S. Army 1st Lt. Mark Golay, detachment executive officer. "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."

The dive detachment is made up of both enlisted Soldiers and officers, but the bulk of the work comes from the privates, privates first class and specialists, said Golay. The sergeants are the salvage divers, while the staff sergeants and sergeants first class are the diving supervisors.

Overall, it takes about 30 minutes 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.

All the dive scenarios were performed from the deck of a Landing Craft Utility 2004, 'Aldie,' commanded by U.S. Army 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. Nearby are large connex-sized containers holding a FADS, or Fly- Away Diving System, and decompression chamber.

"We have a FADS 3 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 lead and standby divers prepared for the next scenario, team member U.S. Army Spc. Thomas Dougherty began conducting the necessary checks before their arrival.

"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. "The divers will come out here, where we will 'hat' them and 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."

According to Feyers, preparation exercises like these solidify the team's effectiveness, eliminating any uncertainty of its ability to complete its mission.

"I am not nervous at all; I have the right training, and the schooling itself is extensive," said Feyers. "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, or your tender will not let you fall; everyone will know what to do in an emergency. For us, it's just another day at the office."

After multiple dive scenarios, it is evident the team yields great precision in their execution, extreme detail in their planning, and most importantly, acute instincts when looking out for one another.