LITTLE FALLS, Minn. (NNS) -- Minnesota in the winter is not for the faint of heart. On the radio, they report a low of minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit without the wind chill. This time of year, the wind chill is visible in the air as blowing snow picks up speed across the frozen lake. The wind cuts through layer after layer of protective clothing and gets to the body, giving a real understanding of what bone-chilling cold means.
For the divers assigned to Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 2, Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Group (EODGRU) 2 and EOD Training and Evaluation Unit (EODTEU) 2, the ice dive training on a frozen lake on Camp Ripley, Minnesota, is a world apart from normal training in the comparatively warm waters around Virginia Beach, Virginia.
The training was the largest independent ice diving operation held by MDSU 2 to date, training more than 60 divers, Feb. 4-15.
“Deliberate and detailed planning is the key to success in this realm,” said Cmdr. Robert Marsh, commanding officer of MDSU 2. “People, behavior, and equipment act and perform differently in ‘arctic-like’ environments. Equipment fails in different ways than it would be expected to under normal operating environments. This environment is a fast teacher, and an unforgiving one at that.”
To compound the difficulty of simply being in the cold, the divers had to be mindful of working too hard setting up the dive site because sweat freezing on exposed skin can be a painful and dangerous scenario.
“I hope what the divers got out of the training was a better understanding of the logistics that goes into an ice diving operation,” said Navy Diver 1st Class Thomas Gerace, MDSU 2 training department leading petty officer. “From all of the equipment to cutting holes in the ice and all of the different considerations for this environment, there are a lot of things that we do out here that we don’t do on normal day-to-day diving operations.”
Lugging gear, setting up tents, shoveling a path through several feet deep snow, cutting holes in the ice, and removing two-foot thick bricks of ice is all step one. Step two is the dive.
For the dive portion of the training, MDSU 2 utilized three dive systems; SCUBA with the MK-20 full face mask, DP-2 surface-supplied dive system and KM-35 surface-supplied dive helmet.
“First and foremost, the divers must be comfortable as soon as they enter the water because diving under the ice is one of the more dangerous forms of diving we do,” said Navy Diver 1st Class Davin Jameson, one of the dive supervisors for the training. “Metal and plastic gear all get brittle in the cold and can break underwater, which is a serious emergency. Each diver must be familiar with gear and emergency procedures and react appropriately so they can come home safely.”
To prepare themselves in the event of a gear malfunction or other issue while under the ice, the divers were required to practice emergency procedures. One of the scenarios is having a malfunction of the dive mask they are wearing.
In the event that a regulator freezes and air stops flowing to the mask, they will immediately take off the mask and breathe off of a secondary regulator attached to the dive rig. This is standard procedure and a regular drill for divers in the waters around Virginia Beach, but it is much different in a frozen lake in Minnesota.
When the mask is removed under the ice, it breaks the seal protecting the skin from the 35-degree water and can cause the body to involuntarily gasp and inhale water, a reaction the training aimed to mitigate in a controlled environment.
“I know my divers can dive, what I want them to learn is the ability to predict second and third order effects of diving in a unique environment,” Marsh said. “Sets and repetitions under the water, or in this
case under the ice, always provide benefit and manifest as increased team proficiency and increased individual comfort levels using significant equipment in an uncomfortable environment.”
For Navy Diver 3rd Class Daniel Smith, who is one of the newest divers in the fleet, having recently completed dive school, the training opportunity sets him apart from his peers.
“I just got out of school, and I’m sitting in a room with master divers who have never gone through an ice diving course,” he said. “Being under the ice is an unreal experience, and having this skillset makes me a better and well-rounded diver.”
As the gear is stowed and secured for the trip back to Virginia Beach, the knowledge and experience gained under the ice is another tool added to the MDSU 2 and Navy diving toolbox and will pay dividends for preparing divers to operate in Arctic environments.
“This training allows us to build both competency and proficiency in a unique environment,” Marsh said. “With this instruction, MDSU 2 moves closer to being capable of providing organic training to our own folks, on our schedule, when required. We are building resident expertise that can be passed down to subsequent personnel.”
Although the training may have only been in a 15-foot deep frozen lake, the sentiment towards Navy diving remains the same.
“Hooyah deep sea,” Smith said through a teeth-chattering cold smile.
For more news from Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2, visit www.navy.mil/local/eod2/.