A New Chapter At The Top Of The World
Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Meredith Manning
May 19, 2018
“All non-essential personnel please move to the stern,” piped a
small, athletic woman in a black dry suit.
A few crew members
and bystanders slipped to the back of the boat, but a large portion
of the people stayed in place. She addressed them as she read from a
small booklet and jotted notes as they checked their equipment.
This was the first time divers would enter Arctic waters from a
Coast Guard vessel since a tragic accident took two military divers’
lives in 2006.
The divers on the small boat were part of a
joint United States military dive team, consisting of six Coast
Guard divers and six Navy divers, deployed to Coast Guard Cutter
Healy to support the 2017 Coast Guard Research and Development
Center Arctic patrol.
Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st
Class Brendon Ballard enters the water from a Coast Guard
Cutter Healy small boat during a cold water ice dive in the
Arctic, July 30, 2017. Divers are the Coast Guard’s primary
resource for the service’s subsurface capabilities and
perform a full spectrum of Coast Guard missions; including
underwater inspections and maintenance on icebreakers and
other cutters, surveying critically endangered species
habitats and providing underwater searching capabilities for
search and rescue operations. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by
Petty Officer 2nd Class Meredith Manning)
During the patrol, the team conducted cold water ice dive
operations from both the small boat and a dive platform that was
lowered from the Healy. A total of 18 dives were performed with a
maximum depth of 38 feet and subsurface time of 18 minutes.
The team’s operations marked the culmination of specialized
oversight, training and proficiency since the loss of Lt. Jessica
Hill and Petty Officer 2nd Class Steven Duque. Since the accident,
the Coast Guard has implemented a dive rating, required advanced
military dive training and developed a military ice diving course
available to all branches.
“The aftermath of the deaths of
Jessica Hill and Steven Duque breathed life into a new Coast Guard
dive program and diver rating,” said Capt. Greg Tlapa, commanding
officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy. “This summer was a great
milestone towards restoring, not only Healy’s full dive
capabilities, but cold water ice dive capabilities for the entire
U.S. military operating in the Arctic.”
As the only U.S.
military surface vessel that deploys to the ice-covered waters of
the Arctic, the reintegration of diving on the Healy assures
year-round access for national security, sovereign presence and
increased maritime domain awareness in the region.
team also trained with a Navy recompression chamber that was brought
onboard the cutter. For the dives performed during this deployment,
access to a recompression chamber within six hours is mandatory. Due
to the remoteness of the Arctic, having a chamber onboard during the
mission was essential.
“The locations where we were diving
were outside of our capabilities,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Geri
Cabrera, a Coast Guard dive supervisor, referring to the distance
from the nearest recompression chamber. “It was through our
partnership with the Navy dive team that this mission was possible.”
The chamber serves as a lifeline and a training platform for the
divers. During the deployment they worked through scenarios using
the chamber, trained on operating the chamber and completed chamber
Although the chamber was available and
required in proximity, the divers successfully completed dive
operations during the deployment without incident.
Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd
Class Adam Harris, a member of a joint Coast Guard-Navy dive
team deployed on the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, holds a Coast
Guard ensign during a cold water ice dive off a Healy small
boat in the Arctic, July 29, 2017. The joint dive team
successfully completed the first shipboard Coast Guard dive
operations in the Arctic in eleven years. (U.S. Coast Guard
photo by Petty Officer 1st Class David Bradbury)
During the last dive of the mission, Tlapa addressed the crew as
they stood in formation, a small sea of red winter coats, on the
fantail of the cutter.
“Lt. Hill and Petty Officer Duque were
taken from this world 11 years ago, but their spirit lives on in the
hearts of loved ones and with the restoration of dive operations to
the Healy. In their memory, we stand united as one ship, one crew,
and one family. We honor them each time we pause to evaluate risk
before a dangerous operation and we honor them by reintroducing dive
operations to the Arctic.”
Two divers were lowered on a
platform into the icy Arctic waters. A Coast Guardsman played taps
on his trumpet as the divers swam out far enough for the crew to
watch them disappear in the vast ocean as ice floes surrounded the
cutter. The fog that hung in the air of the first dive has long
since lifted and the sun peaked through the overcast sky. Just
beneath the surface, the divers released a weighted plaque, honoring
their brother and sister whose loss paved the way to this moment.
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