PROVIDENCE, R.I. (NNS) -- U.S. Navy Expeditionary Combat Salvage divers and a small contingent of U.S. Army divers have worked since June 1 near Providence, to raise the former Soviet submarine K-77. also known as Juliet 484.
This is a unique opportunity to conduct real-world training in submarine salvage operations.
More than 100 active and Reserve Sailors and Soldiers, mainly from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 (MDSU 2) Norfolk and the U.S. Army Dive Company from Fort Eustis, Va., have labored to raise the submarine from the bottom of the Providence River.
The 1960's-era Soviet cruise missile submarine-turned-museum sank at the pier during a nor'easter on April 17, 2007. K-77 led a storied life prior to her sinking, including a brief stint as a floating vodka bar in Helsinki, Finland and as the titular submarine in the film, "K-19: The Widowmaker."
Expeditionary Combat Salvage, a capability central to Navy Expeditionary Combat Command's adaptive force packages, has been made even more viable by Department of Defense Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) Program funding. IRT is designed to improve military readiness and to simultaneously help rebuild America.
"The Innovative Readiness Training Program has made this possible, and gives us a big advantage over traditional training," said MDSU 2 Command Master Chief Ross Garcia.
"It gives a once in a lifetime opportunity to exercise a salvage capability that we typically can't simulate. We just can't go sink a submarine at will. The value of this training in assuring our ability to clear waterways for movement of military forces and civilian commerce is immeasurable," said Garcia, a master diver.
Referencing one of MDSU 2's many previous operations; Garcia explained, "Imagine the size of the catastrophe [of the bridge collapse] in Minnesota. In the Mississippi River there was commerce waiting on the river for the rubble to be cleared out of the way of the locks so that commerce could be delivered up river. These operations exercise our ability to clear waterways and to restore normality to maritime commerce and economic prosperity, and are easily linked to theater engagement opportunities and the Global Fleet Station concept."
If we could help smaller partner-nations to prosper by providing them the ability to utilize their harbors and waterways, we might instill in their minds that the United States is a nation which can help them to achieve increased levels of economic prosperity."
The joint aspect of the mission generated a great deal of excitement among the divers.
"I went to dive school back in 2000 and I had an integrated class with Army divers and have not had the opportunity to work with qualified Army divers since that class," said Navy Diver 2nd Class (DSW/SW/AW) Kevin Eppleman. "This is the first chance I've had to work with them in the fleet, and the joint operation is awesome. It's a lot of fun to be working with your deep sea brothers whether they be Army or Navy and we've had a great time so far."
In the six weeks since salvage operations began, Army and Navy divers have made significant progress. On June 25, the submarine's 49-degree list as it lay in the mud was successfully corrected and the ship was righted to a five degree list.
First Lt. Matt P. Kazlowski, Army diver, recalled one of the many difficult tasks that had to be completed to correct the ship's list.
"I was securing the aft pumping patch, and in order to do that I had to enter the sub and move some of the hydraulic and pumping gear, so that was probably my most memorable dive. Every single dive is in complete darkness and difficult. You have to have a good mental picture of what you're going to do prior to entering the water."
With the list corrected, divers prepared the ship for a controlled surface. Belly bands were run underneath the sub through tunnels dug by the divers.
"That required a lot of digging in the mud. We found that the best way to go was old school deep sea style, with a diver and a jet nozzle and just go from one end to the other. It can be a little dangerous, but we had backup jets standing by [as a safety precaution] in case there were any cave-ins," said Eppleman.
"Tunneling under the submarine, that's something you rarely get the opportunity to do as a Navy diver. You can spend 20 plus years and never get a chance like that and it really gets your heart pumping."
Once the belly bands are in place, they will be attached to I-beams that connect them to floating pontoons in preparation for the final raising of K-77, tentatively scheduled for July 17, 2008.
Naval Sea Systems Command out of the Washington Naval Yard, and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Expeditionary Support Unit 2 from Norfolk are providing on site logistics and support for the operation.
For more news from Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/necc/.