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NEWS | March 17, 2014

Guppies to great whites: becoming an Army diver

By Senior Airman Austin Harvill 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

The U.S. Army Advanced Individual Training school at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., trains a special brand of Soldiers who can weld, build and tear down just about anything.

These soldiers, armed with concrete, caulk and carbide drills, construct everything from concrete monoliths to rebar fortifications - and they do it all underwater.

Divers at Fort Eustis are trained to do anything another civil engineering Soldier can do - except they do so completely submerged. These special engineers undergo different training, and are held to a higher standard by both the Army and the dive teams at Fort Eustis.

"Our Soldiers must exceed the standard set forth for others in almost every category," explained U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Milton Prater, 569th Engineer Detachment (Dive), 30th Engineer Battalion, 20th Engineer Brigade. "Before they even come to [this unit], they have already outperformed other Soldiers who could have been here."

After Basic Combat Training, dive students undergo phase one of their training at Fort Leonard Wood. For three weeks, they learn the basics of diving, spending hours in a pool practicing breathing techniques and proper form.

They also learn a specific branch of medical treatment called dive medicine, which focuses on underwater medical conditions, such as decompression sickness, more commonly known as "the bends."

"We look at phase one as a weeding-out process in addition to their rudimentary training," said Capt. Daniel Arnold, 569th Eng. Det. Commander. "They are put through a lot of physical and mental testing to ensure we receive only the best and brightest."

After the rigors of phase one, those divers who pass travel to the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center in Panama City, Fla., for their final phase of training. Here they work with divers of all branches for six months to learn more of their craft skills like underwater welding, construction and concrete pouring, in addition to more advanced dive techniques and equipment familiarization.

Officers go through the same progression of phase one and two. However they also attend additional training to prepare them for managerial positions once they graduate.

Upon graduation, Soldiers become 2nd Class Divers, which means they are ready to get to work, with a little on-the-job training from their unit.

"Divers from school have the capability to dive, but we don't send them down without help from one of our more experienced divers," said Prater. "Having a Salvage or Master Diver with them ensures we complete the mission effectively and set our new Soldiers up for success in their future."

The training doesn't stop after school. In order to become a Salvage Diver, Soldiers must dive at least every 90 days, eight times a year, and they have to pass other advanced certifications.

Divers must also attend the Advanced Leader Course, and upon promotion to sergeant, can wear the title of Salvage Diver.

After a similar progression of OJT and certification, Soldiers who attended Senior Leader Course reach the final echelon of divers - Master Diver. However, even the most experienced divers never stop learning.

"No matter if a Solider is a 2nd Class or Master Diver, there is always something to learn," said Prater. "We have to be ready for just about anything, and it is near impossible to remain proficient in everything at once, so we train often."

Before any mission, divers take a few weeks to get familiar with the mission at hand. If the job involves excessive welding, divers will use the dive tank on post to practice their technique, which ensures mission success every time, said Arnold.

"We don't want to go into any environment with rusty tools, and that includes our minds," said Arnold. "Our divers need to be comfortable with the task at hand, so we provide them with the time and training to see that through."

With all of the training, from phase one to Master Diver certification, Prater is confident his people can get the job done.

"I enjoy our Soldiers because they are simply a cut above the rest," said Prater. "With their expertise, above-average total fitness and enthusiasm, I know we can tackle anything under the waves."