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Dive Medical Officer - Beyond No Easy Accomplishment
by U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Cameron Parks
August 17, 2018

U.S. military uniform devices are very important to a service member’s uniform. The usual medal or plastic emblems signify the unconventional training a service member has undergone. One of the most recognizable devices is the Parachutist Badge “Jump Wings”, but there are other emblems that aren’t as identifiable.

“The Dive Medical Officer device (DMO) is a traditional scuba diving helmet (Mark 3) with seahorses to the left and right of it and two tridents behind them. This device represents the hard work and determination that these Sailors have to display to earn the title of dive medical officer, “said U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nick Rohrhoff, a dive medical officer with 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 3rd Marine Division.

Attaining the title of medical doctor in the U.S. military is no easy accomplishment. After completing undergraduate, potential candidates are faced with the challenge of completing medical school. Some candidates take it a step further with the prospect of taking unconventional medical jobs in the armed forces.

“You can’t just enter as some regular doctor that decides you want to do this, because it sounds cool,” said Leighton, a native of Boise, Idaho. “You have to hold yourself to the standards.”

U.S. Navy Lt. Terrance Leighton, a diving medical officer with 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, explains the basic operations of the compression chamber on Camp Schwab, Okinawa, Japan on June 13, 2018. The compression chamber is used to help treat service members with water pressure injures. Becoming a diving medical officer requires on average nine years of pipeline training before a candidate is ready to operate in the fleet. Leighton is a native of Boise, Idaho and an alumni of Michigan State University. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Cameron Parks)

According to Leighton, being accepted into the dive medical officers program involves a rigorous Navy physical screening. The screening consists of five timed physical events: a 500 meter swim, pushups, pull ups, sit ups and a distance run.

Once the potential dive medical officers are accepted into the program, they are assigned to the Naval Undersea Medical Institute in Groton, Connecticut for six weeks of training.

According to Leighton, at the institute the potential medical dive officers endure a grueling schedule where they are constantly physically and mentally strained.

“It’s six weeks in Groton where we conduct all pre-dive work outs. We pool dive in the mornings and conduct physical training in the afternoons,” said Leighton. “While in the middle of [underwater training], you are learning academically about nuclear physics, nuclear reactors, submarines, and diving medicine.”

After they pass their first phase of training, they head over to Panama City, Florida for the second phase of training. In this phase the candidates endure another six weeks of training at the Navy Dive and Salvage training center. This is where the candidates finally receive their Mark 3 emblem.

“All of the diving occurs in Panama City,” said Rohrhoff a native of Chicago and a Duke university graduate. “We also do pool week, the Navy Diving Course, and scuba diving as well.

U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nick Rohrhoff, a diving medical officer with 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, listens through his stethoscope to hear his patient’s lungs, Camp Schwab, Okinawa, Japan on June 13, 2018. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Cameron Parks)

Once the second phase of training is complete, the newly certified Navy divers go back to Groton where they do written exams and oral boards. Once they pass this final obstacle, the candidates graduate as diving medical officers and join the fleet.

According to Leighton, a Michigan State University graduate, the path to becoming a diving medical officer averages around nine years and takes immense focus and drive.

“This was the best decision I ever made, joining the navy being number one and becoming a DMO was two without a doubt,” said Leighton. “I love the Navy and my job, and I love taking care of the men and woman who do the crazy stuff.”

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