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NEWS | Feb. 5, 2014

Zero to 190: Eustis Soldiers dive in to support Army

By Airman 1st Class Austin Harvill 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

It was below 30 degrees. The Soldiers on the pier were indistinguishable from each other in their heavy jackets, gloves and full-face masks, which protected them from the bitter wind chill - all except two.

U.S. Army Capt. Brian Wilson, 20th Engineer Brigade, 30th Eng. Battalion, 74th Eng. Detachment commander, and 1st Lt. Andrew Kalna, 74th Eng. Det. diver, meandered among the Soldiers, trying to keep warm in their black neoprene wet suits.

"The water wasn't unbearable, but I wouldn't say I was warm either," said Wilson. "I was focused on the mission at hand, so I wasn't too concerned about the water."

Wilson and his team from the 74th Eng. Det. diving team based at Fort Eustis helped the 733rd Mission Support Division Harbormaster office repair an oil-containment system at Fort Eustis, Jan. 30. For the 74th Eng. Det., these missions are another opportunity to help their tenant base maintain readiness, and prepare them for other varieties of underwater missions across the nation.

Using specialized tools, dive teams perform construction, salvage, geospatial intelligence gathering, mobility and counter-mobility missions involving government assets and waterways.

"From zero to 190 feet below, the Army controls the water," said 1st Sgt. Christopher Green, 74th Eng. Det. master diver. "Our mission is integral to keeping waterways safe, and we have a number of assets to make sure we succeed."

Before jumping in, the dive unit first determines the temperature of the water and which dive suit the divers will use. If the water is deemed cold enough, divers will don the dry suit.

"The dry suit prevents water from reaching the diver," said Sgt. Brandon Summerville, 74th Eng. Det. salvage diver. "The suit is bulkier, but the diver remains warm in freezing water."

When diving in warmer waters, Summerville said divers wear wetsuits, which allow a surface of water to reach the diver, which then warms up due to body heat and acts as an insulator for the colder water surrounding the diver.

After suit up, the divers have the option between scuba gear and a diving helmet. Scuba gear is ideal for quicker jobs, since the diving helmet is essentially an upgrade, allowing divers more options under water, said Summerville.

"The Kirby Morgan Dive Helmet allows a diver to communicate better, dive deeper and stay down longer," explained Summerville. "An in-helmet radio gives him real-time information from the surface team, and the continuous air flow from our pumps permits longer, deeper missions."

Once underwater, all of their everyday-use tools are hydraulic. Drills, pumps and other power tools rely on a surface-side hydraulic pump instead of electricity to prevent a voltage discharge underwater. Furthermore, divers have underwater welding capabilities and sonar technology to better evaluate the job at hand.

"Our side-scan sonar system works better than shipboard instruments of the same kind," said Summerville. "It allows us to view small objects in our environment, and it gives us an underwater site picture of salvageable assets, construction projects and waterway obstructions."

With all their specialized tools in tow, the dive team can tackle the first of their five main missions: geospatial intelligence gathering.

"Whenever we map the floor of a bay, river or other body of water, we are conducting a geospatial review," said Green. "[Activities such as] hunting for construction obstacles, sunken ships or even hidden mines all fall under our geospatial intelligence mission."

If a ship wants to come into a port in a war zone, divers scan for any mines or other ordnance, which prevents tragedy for other units. During salvage, construction or mobility projects, the information gathered by divers provides other team members the site picture they need to complete the project.

When dive teams are not deployed, their geospatial missions support mostly construction projects.

"Divers almost always help out with any construction project over the water," said Wilson. "Whether the government is building a pier, bridge or canal, chances are you will find a diver."

Using their sonar capabilities, the dive unit gives the construction team "eyes" under the waves, and often they weld or otherwise secure underwater projects. In addition, they repair those same assets when required.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the dive team handles salvage situations. Instead of building, they devote their time recovering lost equipment or moving sunken ships out of government waterways.

"When a craft obstructs our waters, it is our job to open up that passageway as fast as possible," explained Green. "We have a number of processes in place to ensure the mission moves expeditiously."

After a scan, divers might weld patches onto a sunken vessel to float the craft to the surface or cut up the obstruction for easier removal by crane or other apparatuses, said Green. In the unfortunate event of a manned vessel going down, the dive team also assists in body recovery.

Since most construction, salvage and geospatial intelligence projects involve divers expediting transportation, the mission also falls under mobility operations. Conversely, in a deployed location, those same missions can be used to hinder enemy movement, and the missions become counter-mobility operations.

"If the military wants to build a bridge to move equipment more easily, all of the geospatial intel and construction work can be classified as mobility operations," explained Wilson. "On the other hand, if the military wants to destroy a bridge in order to stop or slow enemy movement, the work is classified as counter-mobility."

Whatever mission the 74th Eng. Dev. or other Army dive unit faces, Wilson is confident the results will be exceptional.

"This is what we do every day - half of us practically breathe water," said Wilson. "We have yet to falter in the face of a challenge, and I don't see that changing anytime soon."