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Around The Fleet

Men of Iron

Continuing a family legacy beneath the waves

Heat, humidity and chlorine hang in the air like a thick blanket and the flip-flop and intermittent squeak of flip flops echo down the hall.

This is the submarine escape trainer at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Connecticut and elite Navy divers run the show.

Gathered around the 37-foot training tank, the divers discuss the day's schedule before submarine students arrive. Wrapped in a blue robe, waiting for his first training dive of the morning is Petty Officer 2nd Class Frank Phelan, a high risk training instructor at the school house.

His day-to-day workday revolves around teaching students the basics and hazards of submarine escape, but he also comes from a military family.

"I had a lot of family in the military," said Phelan. "My uncle, my mother's brother, was a Navy diver back in the late 70s."

During that era of Navy diving, divers wore the MK-5, a 280-pound suit of mostly heavy brass.
Three photo collage: PO2 Phelan's uncle during his naval service; PO2 Phelan in dive suit; PO2 Phelan and his uncle.

"He was really the one who talked me into becoming a diver," Phelan recalls about his uncle. "He really introduced me to that camaraderie, what it would be like, the kind of skill sets that would be required of me and the challenge itself."

Phelan had already picked a rate to work on submarines, but when the time came for him to ship off to boot camp; he changed his mind and decided to take the challenge of becoming a Navy diver.
Three photo collage: PO2 Phelan in MK-5; Phelan's uncle in MK-5 circa 1970s; PO2 Phelan in MK-5.

With more than 40 years separating his service from that of his uncle's, the world of the Navy diver has changed quite a bit.

"They like to call us Tupperware divers," Phelan says with a laugh. "Back in the day he used to dive that big tin can, the MK-5, and that was 280-pounds, and the rigs we dive today are about 70-pounds, a lot lighter."

After nine years of service, multiple deployments, and ship's husbandry - involving both submarines and destroyers - and now at his third command, Phelan still looks back with pride at continuing his family's military legacy.

I think for the most part he's very proud of where I've gone, what I've done and it's just cool to see how he enjoys it just as much as he possibly used to." -PO2 Frank Phelan

Infographic for basic physical requirements to become a Navy diver.

Infographic for basic physical requirements to become a Navy diver.

Making of a Navy Diver Infographic:
Journey begins at the Center for Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Diving (CEODD) Learning Site, Great Lakes.
One of the highest attrition rates in the Navy 40-50 percent of candidates fail.
Second Class Diver Course. (CIN A-433-0022, MASL P179101) The second class divers course of instruction is designed to provide initial pipeline "A" school training for qualified personnel for assignment to the general rating of Navy diver (ND) and NEC 5343. This course qualifies personnel to safely and effectively perform as a diver and dive team member per approved technical manuals and the U.S. Navy Diving Manual.
This course also provides entry level diver training for selected officer personnel for the engineering duty officer/salvage officer program.
1) SWIM: 500 yards in 12:30 min or less; In swimming trunks, swim nonstop 500 yards utilizing the side or breaststroke. Applicant may push off pool sides during turns.
Ten-minute rest period.
2)Push-ups: 50 in 2 min
Two-minute rest period.
3)Sit-ups: 50 in 2 min period.
Two-minute rest period.
4)Pull-ups: 6 no time limit.
Ten-minute rest period.
5)Run 1.5 miles 12 min 30 sec or less
Applicants may wear sneakers and shorts.
For more information and medical requirements visit: