Article and photos by Jordan Vinson, Associate Editor, The Kwajalein Hourglass
ITSN Ryan Marsi (left) and CM2 Tristan De Delva, both assigned to UCT 2, tweak scuba regulators and prepare hundreds of feet of umbilical hoses for the day’s dives off U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll, June 9. (U.S. Army photo by Jordan Vinson
A crew of divers from the Underwater Construction Team (UCT) 2, headquartered in Port Hueneme, Calif., executed training dives off U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll (USAG-KA), June 20.
The 10 men of UCT 2’s 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 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 divers’ relatively short training mission was actually preceded by many hours of preparation on land and topside on the boat decks, said Detachment Bravo leader Chief Petty Officer Jason Cortez.
Geared 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 Ennubirr, off U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll, June 9. (U.S. Army photo by Jordan Vinson)
“Practice makes perfect,” Cortez said during a training dive off the Great Bridge a couple of miles south of Roi-Namur, June 9. “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 necessary for even a short, routine mission.
“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 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.”
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. After a lengthy equipment check, the divers leapt off the deck of the Great Bridge into the warm, turquoise-colored water and started their descent.
“Divers are traveling,” 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.
HM1 William Schleisman (left) and BUC Jason Cortez, the leader of UCT 2’s Detachment Bravo, check a stand-by diver’s regulator. Cortez guided his men through a long list of safety checks before they began a series of training dives near Roi-Namur, off U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll, June 9. (U.S. Army photo by Jordan Vinson)
After the first pair of divers reached the required depth, performed 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 training runs off the Great Bridge were a learning experience.
“The training [went] 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.”
UCT 2 performs missions on military and civilian assets along the U.S. west coast, throughout the Pacific and into Asia. The training mission on Kwajalein Atoll is the latest stop for the men of Detachment Bravo. On a seven-month deployment from its home base at Port Hueneme, Bravo has completed work in San Diego, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands and Korea.
SW2 David Miller, UCT 2, controls the delivery of gases to the divers below using the surface-supplied system, during a training exercise off U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll, June 9. (U.S. Army photo by Jordan Vinson)