Story by Lt. j.g. Jacob A. Wolff, UCT 1
High above the Arctic Circle, surrounded by thousands of miles of ice and snow, Underwater Construction Team (UCT) 1 went to work. While the nation’s adversaries continually look to the Arctic as a new gray zone battleground, the Naval Construction Force (NCF) proved they can operate there, too.
Thule AB was established in 1953 and supports Ballistic Missile Early Warning System missions. The base is composed of Air Force, Space Force, and Danish personnel. Due to the polar environment, it served as an excellent training ground for UCT 1 to dive under the ice. UCT 1 has conducted many ice dives before, but never to this scale. The thickness of the ice, the temperature of the air, and the wind velocity were all extremes compared to what CDD/A has experienced before.
“The last time we conducted ice diving was in Norway, and it was 30 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Construction Electrician 2nd Class Colin Ross. “The -40 degrees Fahrenheit caused a freezing sensation that I’ve never felt before, which caused us to be extra vigilant of cold weather injuries and illnesses.”
According to Builder Petty Officer 1st Class Justin Lieder, the integration of NMCB 1 into this mission was crucial to the overall success of the exercise. With only ten personnel in Thule, UCT 1 needed all hands on deck to support the diving. Luckily, the eleven personnel from NMCB 1 were always on hand to assist in equipment maintenance and readiness.
“It was excellent and essential to have them [NMCB1] with us,” Lieder said. “We would not have been as successful without their help. What we accomplished working together really showcases how our units are intended to cooperate.”
As the Arctic ice pack melts, new sea lines of communication and contested battlegrounds are opening up. It is imperative the Navy continues to operate in this new projected operational environment. Missions could dictate that Seabee Divers must dive under the ice in order to inspect, or repair, critical infrastructure and need to ensure they can operate in the most extreme conditions.
Under the four-foot thick ice, CDD/A was able to accomplish multiple dives using Divator Panel (DP) Configuration 2 (i.e. surface assisted SCUBA). Most notably, CDD/A conducted ice diving using the surface supplied KM-37 Helmet and the Fly-Away Dive System (FADS). Ice diving in KM-37 with FADS is something that UCT 1 had never done before, and was an absolute success. The members of CDD/A worked quickly but safely to get divers in and out of the water, testing their ability to move expediently if there was a hostile threat.
At the end of a week-long exercise, the Seabees built and established power to an ice camp in less than 72 hours. CDD/A conducted 12 ice dives using various systems and also managed to execute emergency procedure drills. Every single piece of equipment that was brought to Greenland was tested and utilized. The data gathered by UCT 1 and NMCB 1 proved invaluable, and will dictate further Arctic mission sets.
Despite the environment, the Seabees prevailed. The extreme temperatures caused equipment malfunction and slowdowns, but the Seabees never slowed down. They put their “Can Do” spirit into the exercise, proving to our adversaries that we can build, fight, and dive in any operational environment.
Members from Naval Construction Group (NCG) 2, NMCB 1, Underwater Construction Team (UCT) 1, Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command Expeditionary Warfare Center (NAVFAC EXWC), Naval Experimental Dive Unit (NEDU), Naval Sea Systems Command Office of the Director of Ocean Engineering Supervisor of Salvage and Diving (NAVSEA 00C), and Naval Dive and Salvage Training Center (NDSTC) participated in an NCG 2-lead Naval Construction Force (NCF) Arctic Training and Testing & Evaluation event at Thule Air Base in Greenland.
UCT 1 is homeported in Gulfport, Mississippi, and forward deployed to Rota, Spain, with details and detachments deployed across five combatant commander areas of responsibility to provide an adaptive and scalable Naval Construction Force ready and capable of executing quality construction in combat or in support of civic action, humanitarian assistance, or disaster recovery.
Commander, Task Force (CTF) 68 commands all Naval Expeditionary Forces in U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command areas of responsibility in direct support of Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa, and Commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet Maritime and Theater Security Cooperation (TSC) Strategies and Maritime Support Plans.
U.S. Sixth Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners, in order to advance U.S. national interests, security, and stability in Europe and Africa.