KEMAMAN, Malaysia (NNS) -- U.S. Navy and Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) divers suited up and hit the warm waters at Kemaman Port to conduct an exothermic cutting exercise on July 11 and 12 in the capstone of their joint training during the Malaysian phase of the 13th annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise.
The Navy divers, attached to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit(MDSU) 1 Det. 11 based out of Pearl Harbor, are embarked aboard USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) as part of the task group for the annual exercise.
What stood out during the exercise was the RMN divers' willingness and eagerness to learn, according to Senior Chief Navy Diver (DSW/SW) John D. Hopkins, the leading chief petty officer for Det. 11.
"What impressed me the most was their ability to understand the classroom session, despite the language barrier. I think that we all took something valuable from this experience," Hopkins said.
Exothermic cutting is easily considered one of the primary techniques used in underwater salvage operations.
"Exothermic cutting is important because it allows us to cut through steel, rock and through any ferrous or non-ferrous metals," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Dave Davidson, officer in charge of MDSU-1 operations. "There are obviously some risks involved with anything like this, but it's a relatively simple and safe process when proper safety precautions are observed."
Training for the divers first begins in the classroom with user-friendly, yet detailed instructions on the underwater cutting process. The exercise then moves from the slide presentation to a hands-on dry run before conducting the practical in water project reviewed in class.
"The classroom sessions allow us to view the slides together and go over everything step-by-step and answer any questions the divers might have," said Hopkins. "The slides break down the theory and process of the underwater cutting technique, then we take it outside for the dry dive."
The two processes used for cutting are oxygen-arc cutting and shielded metal-arc cutting. Although both methods can be beneficial, oxygen-cutting is the preferred method, according to Davidson, because it easily cuts plain and low-carbon-steel.
Areas reviewed in training include the types of torches to use as well as the type of electrodes.
"We train in the use of both the BROCO Ultrathermic electrode which will melt almost any material at 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit plus," Davidson said. "There's also the Arcair Sea-Jet cutting electrode, which like the Ultrathermic, can burn through anything from rocks to barnacles and sea growth."
From head to toe divers are fitted with a wet or dry suit that is in good repair, a Kirby Morgan-37 diving rig with a lens bracket, welding/cutting lenses to protect the eyes, and rubber gloves are worn over surgical gloves, with leather protectors worn over the rubber gloves. The divers also carry a wire brush and clipping hammer to prepare the area for proper ground attachment.
"What we wear while underwater is just as important as the equipment we use while underwater," said Hopkins. "It might seem like an awful lot of hardware for some, but every piece of equipment that we put on can mean the difference between life and death for a diver."
Davidson said most of the diving training for this CARAT phase and for the prior phases has benefits not only the host-nation divers, but the U.S. divers have a chance to interact with other divers -- many considered the best in their own homeland.
"Everyone that participates in the classroom sessions and in the practical exercises have something to teach and something to learn," said Davidson. "That exchange of experience, and the camaraderie that is built between the divers in both nations can't be measured. It is truly priceless."
CARAT is a sequential series of bilateral military exercises the U.S. Navy performs annually with the armed forces of several Southeast Asia nations. The exercise continues in Singapore and Brunei.
For more information, please visit www.clwp.navy.mil/carat2007.
For more news from Commander Task Force 73, visit www.news.navy.mil/local/clwp/.