The Many Cool Jobs of the Military Diver

By Katie Lange
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

Learning to be a deep sea diver in the military isn’t an easy task – I found that out recently by visiting the Army’s Phase 1 Dive Course. But once military divers successfully make it through training, the world is (almost literally) their oyster, with plenty of cool underwater opportunities to explore.

So let’s dive right into some of them! (And yes, that pun was intended):

Marine Gunnery Sgt. Zachary Burgart, left, project officer for amphibious reconnaissance equipment, and Master Sgt. Brad Colbert, right, project officer for small craft, demonstrate MK25 closed-circuit underwater breathing apparatus in Spotsylvania, Va. The system allows its users to remain concealed in covert operations. Photo by Carden Hedelt
Marine Gunnery Sgt. Zachary Burgart, left, and Master Sgt. Brad Colbert, right, demonstrate MK25 closed-circuit underwater breathing apparatus in Spotsylvania, Va. The system allows its users to remain concealed in covert operations. Photo by Carden Hedelt

Many of the Department of Defense’s elite combat forces have divers who take part in maritime security operations. These specially trained divers often conduct clandestine missions in hostile areas throughout the world. Some of these divers include:

Explosive Ordnance Disposal Techs

Bomb squads aren’t just for land lovers. EOD divers are needed to defuse floating and subsurface naval mines, as well as underwater improvised explosive devices.

They also investigate explosion sites. If a blast causes damage to a ship’s hull, for example, EOD divers will probe the blast field, map and collect evidence, and they’ll search the detonation area for debris. They’ll then try to reconstruct the explosive device after the dive to learn what they can from it.

U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Shaun Kessler, an explosive ordnance disposal technician assigned to Commander, Task Group 56.1, prepares to dive with Royal Jordanian Navy divers, Feb. 13, 2014. CTG-56.1 conducts mine countermeasures, explosive ordnance disposal, salvage-diving and force protection operations throughout the 5th Fleet area of responsibility. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Taylor M. Smith
U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Shaun Kessler, an explosive ordnance disposal technician assigned to Commander, Task Group 56.1, prepares to dive. CTG-56.1 conducts mine countermeasures, explosive ordnance disposal, salvage-diving and force protection operations throughout the 5th Fleet area of responsibility. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Taylor M. Smith

They also get to do cool searches, like explore this sunken tank from World War II!

U.S. sailors assigned to Commander, Task Group 56.1, pose for a group photo above a World War II tank during a dive exercise Feb. 13, 2013. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Taylor M. Smith
U.S. sailors assigned to CTG-56.1 pose for a group photo above a World War II tank during a dive exercise Feb. 13, 2013. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Taylor M. Smith

Air Force Pararescuemen:

These airmen do whatever it takes to save a life, including parachuting, rock climbing and SCUBA diving into hostile territory to rescue, recover and return wounded service members. They’re trained in emergency medical tactics, as well as combat and survival skills.

U.S. Air Force pararescuemen perform pre-dive breathing checks before taking part in a dive training course June 20, 2012, at Lake Meade, Nev. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel Hughes
U.S. Air Force pararescuemen perform pre-dive breathing checks before taking part in a dive training course at Lake Meade, Nev. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel Hughes

Salvage and Repair Crews:

These divers recover sunken equipment (such as the tanker above), as well as inspect and clean ships, which often get barnacles, slime and other marine growth stuck to their hulls and propellers. They also help repair battle-damaged ships.

Soldiers with the 86th Engineer Dive Team pull a diver out of the Persian Gulf during salvage dive operations near Kuwait Naval Base, Kuwait, Sept. 24, 2013. The diver, Spc. Thomas P. Hunnicutt, a Macon, Ga., native, participated in the exercise to become a qualified salvage diver. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Kimberly Hill
Soldiers with the 86th Engineer Dive Team pull a diver out of the Persian Gulf during salvage dive operations near Kuwait Naval Base, Kuwait, Sept. 24, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Kimberly Hill

Plenty of non-combat dive missions are also conducted in America and around the world, including the following:

Humanitarian Operations:

Military divers can be called upon during a crisis, such as during Hurricane Katrina, where they helped clear debris from underwater roadways. After the deadly Interstate 35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis in 2007, military divers helped the Army Corps of Engineers and authorities in charge manage the disaster and recovery efforts.

Navy divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2, based at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Va., set up a base of operations aboard the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Crane Barge Wade Aug. 7, 2007, in Minneapolis. MDSU-2 was assisting other federal, state and local authorities managing disaster and recovery efforts at the site. Courtesy photo
Navy divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 set up a base of operations aboard the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Crane Barge Wade on Aug. 7, 2007, in Minneapolis after the bridge collapse. Courtesy photo

That humanitarian help spans the globe, too. Army Staff Sgt Samuel Winter, an instructor at the Army Diver Phase 1 Course I visited, was on a team sent to Haiti after the massive earthquake in 2010. He and his crew helped reconstruct the pier in Port-au-Prince that was desperately needed to transfer supplies. To get a feel for how hard the work is, Winter said the mission involved more than 260 underwater concrete pours.

U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officers Steve Eckroth, left, and Mark Hurley, right, both equipment officers assigned to Underwater Construction Team 1, and Army Spc. Leslie Shiltz, a diver assigned to the 544th Engineer Dive Team, wrap wire around adjoining pieces of re-enforcement bar used to strengthen sections of pier in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after it was damaged by a 7.0 earthquake Jan. 12, 2010. The service members were repairing damaged sections of concrete pilings in support of Operation Unified Response.  U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Chris Lussier
U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officers Steve Eckroth, left, and Mark Hurley, right, and Army Spc. Leslie Shiltz wrap wire around adjoining pieces of re-enforcement bar used to strengthen sections of pier in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after it was damaged by a 7.0 earthquake Jan. 12, 2010. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Chris Lussier

Search-and-Rescue and Recovery Operations:

Divers are often called upon for search-and-rescue missions, as well as recovering human remains. They help the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency find missing vets from World War II, the Vietnam War and other conflicts. Winter himself spent time in 2011 on a mission in Cambodia, where his team helped recover a soldier missing since Vietnam.

U.S. Navy Master Diver Eric Eberle, of Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2, uses a submersible metal detector to sweep a 4x4 meter grid at a Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency excavation site in the Adriatic Sea while looking for evidence of American service members missing in action at a B-24 Liberator wreck site near Grado, Italy. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Charles White
U.S. Navy Master Diver Eric Eberle uses a submersible metal detector to sweep a grid at a DPAA excavation site in the Adriatic Sea while looking for evidence of U.S. service members missing in action at a B-24 Liberator wreck site near Grado, Italy. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Charles White

Surveying and Repairing Waterways:

Divers might be called upon to help agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with environmental protection, such as removing debris from important coral reefs or repairing data-collecting buoys that can help predict bad weather. They are also used to survey dams along rivers and inspecting seawalls at military installations.

U.S. Navy Seabee divers assigned to Underwater Construction Team 1 return to a small boat following a visual inspection of the stilling basin at Gathright Dam in Allegheny County, Va., for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in April 2014. Courtesy photo
U.S. Navy Seabee divers assigned to UCT-1 return to a small boat following a visual inspection of the stilling basin at Gathright Dam in Allegheny County, Va., for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in April 2014. Courtesy photo

These are just some of the cool things that military divers get to do. Do you think you’re up for the challenge? If so, share or tweet this story with the hashtag #ForceoftheFuture!

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