Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Anderson.
Coast Guard divers are a multi-mission force. They’ll move from an inspection and cleaning of a cutter’s hull in one operation to a homeland security dive for the next. And not only are their mission diverse, but so too are their dive locations. Coast Guard divers are expertly-trained, highly-motivated professionals supporting operations from the Arctic to surveys of coral reefs off of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Last week, Regional Dive Locker East, based in Portsmouth, Va., deployed a six-member team to New Jersey to show just how multi-mission they can be.
The team started by conducting ship’s hull inspections with Coast Guard cutters Finback, Ibis and Mako. They examined the cutters’ protective paint, checked anti-corrosion systems and scraped away barnacles. This important work would cost thousands of dollars per cutter if contracted outside of the Coast Guard and allows each ship to achieve greater speed and fuel efficiency.
After completing the cutter inspections, the dive team moved up the coast to rendezvous with Aids to Navigation Team Cape May where they focused on restoring navigational aids.
“Coast Guard divers support the broad spectrum of Coast Guard statutory missions,” said Chief Petty Officer Paul Smith, the dive team’s leader. “You could be placing an anti-swimmer system to protect a harbor from attack or performing an environmental-impact study for protected coral reefs. Because our environment is ever changing, it’s essential that our teams are trained above proficiency.”
The divers and aids to navigation crews searched for lost sinkers – 1,000-pound weights that anchor buoys in place – and recovered pilings, aid mountings that were damaged by weather and now were sunken hazards to navigation.
Their work, conducted in murky waters with limited visibility, was made even tougher by hard currents pushing and pulling on the divers as they freed 20-foot long, 3-foot round piling from the sand and silt on the channel floor.
“Our dives are methodical,” said Smith. “We plan and conduct briefings before every dive from which we hone our mission plan. On these dives, we timed operations to happen into between tide shifts to mitigate the environmental conditions. The currents were still strong and the divers used a lot of energy maintaining position around the work sites, but this allowed them to safely complete their assigned tasks.”
Working together as a team is critical. Divers recognize the mission’s supervisor through foggy masks because of their distinct uniform, a Coast Guard diver shirt and green pants that is instantly identifiable in the sea of Coast Guard uniforms on the buoy deck. Personnel on the surface also know who to take direction from during dive operations.
“Being a Coast Guard diver is physically and mentally challenging,” Smith said. “You have to have the knowledge and training to be a proficient diver, mentally tough and you have to be physically strong. It’s not just the physicality of the work itself; the divers are also working against the elements. Underwater currents are strong, and it takes a lot of stamina to hold position to complete a project.”