Temporarily blinded, everything he does is by feel, from
shuffling his feet as he walks to find his job site to waving his
hand across a structure to find a bolt to wrench.
it this way. It masks the reality that what bumped the diver's leg
at 120 feet below sea level could have been a shark.
March 22, 2016 - U.S. Army Spc. David Plummer, a second class diver
assigned to the 569th Engineer Dive Detachment, prepares to
surface-dive into the James River at Fort Eustis, VA. Plummer
conducted a surface dive as part of upgrade training to become a
salvage diver. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)
"I would much rather be in complete darkness ... I don't
want to see what's down there," said Staff Sgt. Scott
Wilson, adding that he closes his eyes regardless of the
visibility in the water because he has become accustomed to
working without the distractions sight brings.
salvage diver with the 569th Engineer Dive Detachment out of
Fort Eustis, Virginia, Wilson and his crew work as
underwater engineers who survey, demolish, repair and
restore underwater structures and systems including boats,
bridges and dams.
divers use sight, it's not to view the colorful coral reef
and tropical fish, but to conduct reconnaissance security
swims during which they scan the ocean for improvised
explosive devices before military ships sail through.
Detachments like this have not only kept the Army and
U.S. Navy afloat and safe in operations dating back to the
bombing of Pearl Harbor in WWII, but they aided humanitarian
efforts such as the rehabilitation of the Port Au Prince
Pier in Haiti, after it was hit by a 7.0 magnitude
earthquake in 2010.
As the divers support U.S. and
coalition partners by repairing equipment like piers, and
turbines that supply power to communities, they also support
state-side emergencies like Hurricane Sandy, during which
the detachment pumped water out of New York City residents'
basements and subway stations.
"If it's dirty, nasty
and nobody else wants to do it, we'll go in and fix it,"
said Wilson of working in rivers filled with dead fish and
water with temperatures so low that divers lose feeling in
"You power through the cold," said
fellow 569th Engineer Dive Det. salvage diver, Kiley Bannan.
"We were in [an undisclosed location] and we were freezing
one day. I had to come up because I couldn't hold the tool I
was using. I had no dexterity or muscular strength in my
hand, so I gripped the tool and told my stand-by diver to
tape the tool to my hand. You don't want to be the guy who
got out of the water and didn't finish his job because it
was too cold."
While battling dead fish and negative
temperatures for hours on end could be more than enough to
steer someone into another career, Bannan and Wilson
couldn't picture themselves doing anything else.
After all, training to become a diver included exercises
more grueling than dealing with dead fish.
would involve everything you could imagine... Carrying boats
around post and then swimming with the boats a half mile.
Then, getting back out of the water and carrying them
another half mile, dropping them and going for a run was day
in and day out the entire time," said Bannan. "It's a mental
game of taking it one day at a time."
For Bannan, the
now the 12-to-18-hour days of lugging no less than 90 pounds
of equipment up and down hills to get to the detachment's
dive locations still requires taking jobs one day at a time,
and understanding the importance of their duties in a broad
"A lot of units train while they're here in
the states, but we actually get to practice our craft and do
our job helping the U.S. here at home," said Bannan. "Being
able to be part of something here helping people is totally
worth it; we may be freezing the entire time but it's
totally worth it."
By U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard
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