“The Coast Guard shall enforce or assist in the enforcement of all applicable laws on, under and over the high seas and waters subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.”
This opening line from Title 14, U.S. Code, establishes the Coast Guard’s responsibility to protect our nation’s waterways. And recently, the Coast Guard has focused efforts on one particular area: under the high seas.
Although Coast Guard diving traces its roots back to the 1940’s, diving related to Coast Guard missions has primarily remained an interesting side path to a member’s normal career. And most of the time, Coast Guard men and women who perform these dangerous missions only spend four years building their proficiency in diving, and then move back into their established rating.
On April 1, 2015, 48 Coast Guard members began their journey towards proficiency in an entirely new career field by becoming the first Coast Guard men and women to be formally recognized by the Coast Guard’s 22nd rating.
Each new Coast Guard diver has undergone a 45-week training program to ensure they are well prepared for the challenging and dangerous missions that lie ahead.
The diving rating, which will commonly be known as DV for enlisted members and DIV for chief warrant officers, was implemented following years of research, analysis and training by the Diver Career Management Working Group following a diving accident that occurred aboard Coast Guard Cutter Healy in 2006.
“We revalidated the need for an organic diving capability,” said Ken Andersen, chief of subsurface capabilities. “The only solution that we could come up with was ‘How do we keep someone diving the rest of their career?’ Well it needs to be an occupation – and that means a rating.”
And building this new rating for Coast Guard men and women comes down to one thing – building proficiency.
“When you have an opportunity to build proficiency, it provides more safety and security to the taxpayer,” said Cmdr. Mick Mulligan, diver rating implementation chair. “If you have a diver that is only part time, you won’t be able to get the most out of that individual.”
These new Coast Guard divers will perform a myriad of operations that support all 11 statutory Coast Guard missions – ranging from aids to navigation to ports, waterways and coastal security.
Adding a dive rating also avoids cost that are normally contracted out to complete hull inspections on Coast Guard cutters. While this won’t be a primary mission for Coast Guard divers, this added benefit allows the divers to continue honing their skills and get used to operating in various areas and levels of visibility.
So what does a “typical” mission look like for a Coast Guard diver? One of the main missions is what is referred to as ‘sanitizing a port.’
“We had a Naval ship commissioning” said Andersen. “It was a high profile event and they wanted to make sure there were no IEDs or underwater hazardous devices along the pier where this vessel would be coming in and their ceremony was held.”
While it is likely that the dive rating will continue to grow in scope as the years go on, one thing is for sure – adding this organic diving capability was an absolute must for the Coast Guard.
“It’s a big deal,” said Andersen. “We are the premier maritime service. There isn’t a major governmental maritime organization in the world that doesn’t have a diving capability. What would we be doing representing the United States if we didn’t have that.”