Navy Divers Train for Underwater ICBM Scoring System Repair

Navy Seabees Magazine, Aug. 2015. Link to digital version:

A crew of divers from the Navy’s Underwater Construction Team 2, headquartered in Port Hueneme, California, executed important training dives off U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll last week.

A Navy diver hits the water to train for a project slated to repair underwater ICBM impact scoring systems at Reagan Test Site, Kwajalein Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands.

The 10 men of Team 2’s Construction Dive Detachment Bravo worked off USAG-KA vessels for several weeks to prepare for the installation of Reagan Test Site mission assets at the garrison. The project, a joint effort between the Air Force—a heavy user of the test site—the Navy and the Army, is poised to boost quality of service to those who rely on the test site, said Henry McElreath, an RTS site engineer who worked extensively with the men of Detachment Bravo.

“This mission is about providing the best support possible to the Air Force and other customers,” McElreath said. “RTS and Kwajalein Range Services personnel have participated in the design and installation of these new assets, and they will serve as the operations and maintenance team once installation is complete.”

Supported by contractors and Department of the Army civilians on the program, the eight divers, one mechanic and one communications technician worked together off the garrison’s Great Bridge and Patriot vessels for the better part of two weeks. The relatively short training mission the divers were sent to the atoll to perform was actually preceded by many hours of preparation on land and topside on the boat decks, said Bravo leader Chief Petty Officer Jason Cortez.

Geared and up and ready to go, a diver gets some last-minute help from his teammates before getting the green light to hit the water south of Third Island June 9.

“Practice makes perfect,” Cortez said June 9 during a training dive off the Great Bridge a couple of miles south of Roi-Namur. “Everything is going really well today. I’m definitely pleased with how the detachment is handling these workups. Not only is it great diving, but it’s great training also.”

The rationale behind so much preparation for a short mission was made evident by the heaps of high-tech, deep diving gear the divers surrounded themselves with on the deck of the boat. Working out of four large storage containers, the divers prepared hundreds of feet of air supply umbilical hoses, scuba tanks, banks of large cylinders containing gas mixtures, diver-to-surface communications equipment, special deep diving helmets, hydraulic cutting tools and more—all of it necessary for even a short, routine mission. The scene was a strong reminder that, tethered to the other end of those umbilical hoses, were crewmen submerged in an environment that could easily kill them if something catastrophic impaired their equipment—or if their topside teammates performed carelessly.

“When we’ve got guys in the water, there’s no room for error. Their safety is my number one priority,” Cortez said as his team tweaked air regulators on the divers’ equipment and dialed in the controls on a large air supply control station that the team calls a surface-supplied system. “We’re doing these dry runs to make sure we work out any and all kinks there might be.”

Topside, the crew maintains constant communications with the two divers below as the due work through an hour of procedures in the tropical waters of Kwajalein Lagoon.

With the help of topside crewmembers remaining on deck, divers wedged their heads into the heavy, yellow helmets fit to resist pressures of up to 800 feet in depth, and after a lengthy equipment check, leaped off the deck of the Great Bridge into the warm, turquoise-colored water and started their descent.

“Divers are travelling,” yelled a topside crewman, hunkered over a small monitor that provided the crew a first-person view from the divers’ helmet-mounted cameras. Connected to another part of the helmet was the suite of umbilical tubes feeding the divers with the air they needed to survive. A pair of crewmen topside tended to the divers below, feeding the hose to them as they descended to the lagoon bottom and moved about.

After the first pair of divers reached the required depth, performed the required procedures underwater and ascended to the surface, it was another pair’s turn. And then another. It went like that for much of the day, the entire diving crew rotating in and out of stations, some tending to the divers underwater, others monitoring air consumption rates at the air supply control station, and others gearing up for the next dive or working as stand-by divers. Giving each team member regular experience in every possible role is crucial to the detachment’s success, Cortez said.

“We all work together really well,” the chief petty officer said. “It helps that we’ve all worked together for several years. It helps develop teamwork and makes our process on the job smooth and efficient.”

For Construction Mechanic 2nd Class Tristan De Delva, the June 9 training runs off the Great Bridge were a learning experience. The group’s early dives presented a couple of obstacles that the team hadn’t expected but was able to learn from and adjust to in later dives, he said.

“The training is going well,” De Delva said. “We hit a few bumps along the road, but this team is flexible, and we adapted to the things we learned during the first few dives. This is a good group of guys, and there’s nothing we can’t do. I think that when the live mission comes, these guys are going to kill it. I’m pretty stoked.”

Underwater Construction Team 2 does missions on military and civilian assets along the United States’ west coast, throughout the Pacific and into Asia. The training mission on Kwajalein Atoll is but the latest stop for the men of Construction Dive Detachment Bravo. Out on a seven-month deployment from their home base at Port Hueneme, Bravo has completed work in San Diego, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands and Korea. After a final, follow-up mission in Korea, the men will head back to their friends and families in California.

Navy Diver David Miller climbs back aboard the Great Bridge after completing the first dive of the day.