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Divers and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technicians from six partner nations completed training at Rim of the Pacific 2022 in Pearl Harbor, July 29. The 226 service members from the U.S., Netherlands, Australia, Republic of Korea, Mexico and Canada comprising the EOD and diver component of RIMPAC’s Navy Expeditionary Combat Force spent 25 days using the exercise’s unique training environment to increase their ability to effectively plan, communicate and conduct operations as a multinational force.
The 226 service members from the U.S., Netherlands, Australia, Republic of Korea, Mexico and Canada comprising the EOD and diver component of RIMPAC’s Navy Expeditionary Combat Force spent 25 days using the exercise’s unique training environment to increase their ability to effectively plan, communicate and conduct operations as a multinational force.
“It’s what we’re here for: a lot of nations coming together in a superb environment to train, and to work, and to get better in the end,” said Capt. Rick In de Braekt, a maritime EOD company platoon commander in the Netherlands Marine Corps.
The world’s largest maritime exercise provided an ideal venue for a gamut of underwater events that included surface supplied hard-hat and SCUBA diving, a search for World War II bomber wreckage, and salvage, cutting and welding training.
Divers tested tools that could improve future salvage proficiency and capabilities. Australian and U.S. salvors worked with battery-powered underwater tools instead of traditional hydraulic-powered ones to practice “hot-tapping,” a procedure used to safely pump fuels and other contaminants from a damaged vessel without exposing them to the environment.
“We actually have a handheld power tool that does the exact same job as this giant hydraulic tool system that we’ve been using for decades now,” said U.S. Navy Diver 1st Class Andrew Gose, a salvor assigned to Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit One in Pearl Harbor. “We’ve been able to make a proof-of-concept that a much smaller footprint is available to us, which makes us an even greater asset worldwide.”
“We were just comparing the differences, seeing what was good and bad about the new battery-powered tools,” said Royal Australian Navy Clearance Diver Seaman Barryjoseph McLeod about the trials. “I preferred most of them to a hydraulic tool just because it’s less bulky and less to move around.”
RIMPAC also offered opportunities for partner nations to build camaraderie by doing group dives at some of Hawaii’s World War II landmarks.
“It was eye-opening to see a wreck from the attack on Pearl Harbor,” said McLeod, who dove at the USS Utah Memorial. “It was a good exposure to dive on something special like that because there’s not that many sights like that around the world.”
The Navy Expeditionary Combat Force performed EOD evolutions that featured training in anti-terrorism force protection (ATFP) pier and hull searches, maritime improvised explosive devices (IEDs), underwater and land demolition, and counter-IED and unexploded ordnance (UXO).
Multilateral cooperation and collaboration was paramount, as partner nations took turns leading training on different EOD skillsets.
“It’s great. It’s about seeing what’s in the kitchen of other countries,” said Royal Netherlands Navy Sgt. Maj. Richard Ouwerkerk about observing partner nation tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs). “[We can] put it in our backpack and carry it with [us].”
Royal Australian Navy Clearance Diver Chief Joshua Drennan agreed that the multinational training allowed participants to enhance their capability to respond as part of a combined force.
“You’re learning their techniques; you’re seeing their different equipment and ways that you can improve your equipment…or different techniques,” said Drennan.
Communication proved a training challenge because not all partner nations shared a common language. EOD technicians and divers were adaptive in their use of translators and translation apps to bridge communication gaps, but sometimes “talking” was as a simple as sharing a common goal or skill.
“Diving in and of itself is its own language, and once you’re capable of doing it safely, everyone knows the next step of what should be happening. So, it is kind of a universal language,” said Gose.
In de Braekt echoed the point.
“We all have the same mission, to make it safe in the end. As long as we understand that, we always figure a way to communicate and get the job done,” said In de Braekt.
Royal Canadian Navy Clearance Diver Master Sailor Mark Littler said RIMPAC’s diversity demonstrated the value of maritime partnerships.
“I learned that no matter what accent you have or language you speak, we’re all here to do the same job,” said Littler. “Having the camaraderie built up from exercises like RIMPAC is extremely important for us to be able to count on each other and know that we’re all reliable in our skills.”
The Navy Expeditionary Combat Force completed more than 500 dives involving 400 hours in the water, 50 counter-IED drills, and eight live demolition training events. But, RIMPAC is about more than training, said Royal Australian Navy Clearance Diver Able Seaman Oliver Knudson, who emphasized its importance in building capable, adaptive partners who can respond effectively during a real-world crisis.
“This kind of exercise brings all the nations together,” said Knudson. “We bounce off each other our [operating procedures], TTPs, figure out what capabilities we all have, and merge together as one so that in the future, if we need to, we can come together.”
Twenty-six nations, 38 ships, three submarines, and more than 170 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in RIMPAC from June 29 to Aug. 4 in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California. The world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity while fostering and sustaining cooperative relationships among participants critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans. RIMPAC 2022 is the 28th exercise in the series that began in 1971.
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