The Water Sorts It Out
Pesta, Marshall, Soldiers Magazine
ON the southern tip of the Florida Keys, at what was a fallout shelter during the Cuban Missile Crisis era, is the Special Forces Underwater Operations School. It's where the military's elite special-operations forces train at some of the most physically demanding courses in the Army: the Combat Diver Qualification, Combat Diving Supervisor and Diving Medical Technician courses. Soldiers of Company C, 2nd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Training Group, run the school as part of Fort Bragg's U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.
During the six-week qualification course, Special Forces Soldiers learn more than basic scuba diving--they learn a new method of transportation. Master Sgt. J.T. Reed, the operations sergeant for the school, said the schoolhouse focuses on more than the skill of diving; it also focuses on the overall spectrum of waterborne operations, to include tactical infiltration and search and recovery operations.
"To us, it's just another way of getting to work," Reed said. "Some teams can jump into an area using HALO (high-altitude, low-opening airborne operations); our teams use a variety of methods in the water to come in undetected. That gives the operational force a full set of capabilities."
Prior to reporting to Key West, candidates first complete a pre-scuba course with their own units to prepare them for the tasks they'll have to complete the first week at dive school.
Staff Sgt. Samuel Winslow, a dive school candidate from Norridge Wock, Maine, said the three-week train-up was essential for him to be ready for the intensity of this course.
"For me, one of the hardest things was the underwater swim test," Winslow said. "You build up your lung capacity, but it just comes down to being confident. You have to say, 'I know I can do this!'"
For others, even after the pre-scuba course, CDQC was still one of the greatest challenges they've faced in their Special Forces training.
Sergeant Matthew Ruhnke, from Hattiesburg, Miss., said between the train-up and his of-time training, he would spend hours a week swimming prior to arriving at Key West.
"We had to do the pre-scuba class, so we knew what to expect," Ruhnke said. "However, that didn't make it any less hard."
The dive course begins with pool week, where individuals are evaluated on their ability to complete rigorous water testing to include: a 50-meter underwater swim, a 500-meter open water swim in uniform, as well as stress tests, where candidates are bound at the hands and feet and required to perform tasks in the water. This stress is the most effective way to gauge a diver's ability to remain calm while under pressure and underwater.
"It's vital for them to not lose their cool when something goes wrong," Reed said. "We put as much pressure as possible here, so they are prepared out there.
"The ocean does not care, it will kill you."
Once the candidates show their proficiency in the water, they move on to learn advanced military scuba-diving techniques. Scuba is the acronym for a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus, and candidates at the dive school learn to use both open- and closed-circuit dive systems. Open-circuit systems allow a diver to breathe through a tank, while a closed-circuit system recycles the diver's air through a rebreather.
Students also gain experience in search and recovery operations and deep-sea diving. After the first week, the dive candidates break into teams and focus on operational missions techniques, such as underwater navigation. …