View Full Version : This team dives into its work

04-16-2007, 10:29
This team dives into its work
By Gregory Frye
Courier Staff

(Courtesy of the Ft. Campbell Courier, April 13 2007) - Jumping out of aircraft, riding boats, scuba diving and firing weapons all in the same day may not sound realistic, but for an elite group of Special Forces Soldiers, it is part of their job.

Fort Campbell is home to nine of these teams, which make up less than 20 percent of the 5th Special Forces Group detachments.

For Master Sgt. Chris Smith, 1st Battalion, 5th SFG, scuba diving is just another way to get to work.

“Once we get to where we’re going … everyone’s job is the same,” he said of the Special Forces.

Dive teams have been a means of infiltration from water to land for the Special Forces since 1964. Smith has been diving since 1993.

“[Diving] can be a very dangerous mission … if you’re discovered coming on to the beach, there’s nobody there to help you,” Smith said. “It’s a very tricky mission to pull off, but you still have to have that ability.”

For a mission, the team will cast up to 25 miles out in the ocean. They ditch their zodiac boats about 20 miles in, swim for several miles and dive for the last mile, leading up to the shore.

“It’s not all sun tan and flip-flops,” Smith said. “You’re going to pick the darkest night [and] the nastiest weather so they’re not expecting anybody to come.”

As the divers near the shore, the hazards increase, Smith said. Harbor areas are full of dead animals, debris and petroleum-type products. The divers have to be cautious as they maneuver around boats, ships and moving parts.

“There is a potential for a lot to go wrong,” Smith said, “and that is why guys have to be so calm, cool and collected under water.”

Rigorous training

Before joining the dive team, a Soldier must go through the Special Forces Combat Diver Qualification Course in Key West, Fla.

“It takes a unique individual to volunteer and go down to the school, which is one of the most -- if not the most -- demanding Army schools,” said Capt. Neal Smiley, detachment commander.

Smith and Smiley agreed that anyone who volunteers and passes scuba school is more motivated than usual.

“Our training is physically taxing but also mentally taxing,” Smiley said. “But the advantage to that is that it bleeds over to every other type of training we do.”

The seven-week course begins with a basic introduction to operation in a water environment. Soldiers learn how to use the equipment and build up their comfort level in the water.

Divers are familiarized with two types of scuba gear. The first type is the open-circuit, which utilizes closed air in a tank. The second is the closed-circuit system. Also known as a “rebreather,” it recycles the oxygen, eliminating any air bubbles.

After deep dives, navigation dives, searching ships, and learning how to work in eight-man teams, the training culminates in one large test, focusing on the most advanced techniques.

Part of the final test includes a failing air system where the divers have to “buddy-breath.”

Twice per year the divers must conduct refresher training to maintain currency, however, dive teams ought to train a minimum of two to three times a month to maintain proficiency, Smith said.

A different breed

Because the school is so difficult and the mission so challenging, the dive team is rarely at full manpower. They are always recruiting.

“It’s sort of a different breed of guy that is drawn to the dive community within [Special Forces],” Smith said. “A lot of guys do it shearly for the challenge.”

He pointed out the stigma that diver teams think they are better than other units.

“We’re no better than any other Special Forces team out there,” Smith said. “We’re just better in the water.”

The shared experience and intense training does add to a special sense of camaraderie within the team, he said.

“Things are peaceful if you’re doing a recreation dive,” Smiley said. “But if you have something to do and somewhere to go, it ups the stress level a little bit.”

It’s a team effort, Smiley said. Everyone is looking out for each other, so there’s no time relax and enjoy the surroundings.

“The Army is more known for being on land,” Smiley said, “but you still have to have this capability. We stay proficient on these skills just in case the need ever arises.”

The dive team has proven to be an invaluable asset to Fort Campbell for peace time operations as well. Their skills have been utilized for body recoveries and lost weapons systems in rivers.

For the dive teams, extreme focus and attention to detail is an element of everything they do, Smiley said. There is no room for error; awareness and confidence are everything.

05-07-2007, 21:02
Thanks for posting this. That is my old team...