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April 25, 2013

Combat Diver Training & Ear Problems: A Reader Asks SOFREP

Last year for a college credit, I took a diving course. It was an excellent experience but near the end we were required to ditch our weight belt and then do a fast descent to retrieve it at the bottom of the pool (about 13 feet down). During the descent I forgot to equalize my ears, and, as a result, minutely ruptured my eardrum. After I figured out what happened, I asked other students if they had forgotten to equalize at all. Many had, but no one else damaged their ears.

I have a history of sinus issues (mostly just allergies that ended up being sinus infections), but it wasn’t an issue in the pool until I messed up and didn’t equalize the pressure. This all happened in the last week of class before the dive cert., and as a result, I have never dove past 13 feet.

My question is, if I were to be involved in a combat diving program, assuming I didn’t make a dumb mistake (like not equalizing my ears), would having a simple sinus issue like this preclude me from succeeding? My chances of diving again on my own dime are slim, and I would imagine that in the military, if you were to be in the water diving daily for months, this could put a lot of strain on your ears.

Is it unrealistic to think I could succeed at combat diving based on this information?

Thanks for your time,


Mark Donald answers:

Nick, your problem isn’t an uncommon one. Unfortunately, even experienced divers, SCUBA and free diving, can forget to clear their ears during a rapid descent. The good news is, your ears and sinuses should heal fine as long as you avoid the water during the healing, or expose them to forced pressure such as plugging your nose during a sneeze. More importantly, be sure to consult your medical provider; self diagnosis is always bad policy, even for medical professionals.

In relation to your question on military diving, you will find the military takes more time to train/teach than our civilian counterparts. There are many reasons for this, but one of the most important is practicing what to do when things go wrong. Top of the list is to remain calm. In order to ensure this happens, the military relies on one word: rehearsal. This is especially true with combat diving. Regardless of the service you choose, all of them will ingrain in you to remain calm and not to forget the small stuff, like clearing your ears. You’ll be fine.

Mark Donald is a former Navy SEAL and Medical Officer with 25 years experience in operational medicine. He is also author of BATTLE READY, Memoir of a SEAL Warrior Medic on sale today at all major book outlets.


(Featured Image Courtesy: DVIDs. “I feel fine Dive Sup!” shouts a student as he gives the “OK” sign to a dive supervisor after surfacing during pool training in the Combat Diver Qualification Course at the Special Forces Underwater Operations School in Key West, Fla., March 10. The school is part of the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School located at Fort Bragg, N.C.)

About the Author

Mark is a former Navy SEAL and medical officer who served 25yrs as a Reconnaissance Marine, Navy Corpsman and Physician Assistant. He retired in 2010 as training officer for Kennedy Irregular Warfare Center, Office of Naval Intelligence. A published author his memoir BATTLE READY, Memoir of a SEAL Warrior Medic details his life and the difficulties he encountered with Post-Traumatic Stress. In addition to writing, Mark works as a consultant and serves as the Director for the UDT-SEAL Association's Member Life Assistance Program (MLAP). His military decorations include the Navy Cross, the Silver Star and Purple Heart.

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  • Coriolis effect

    JSOC To be more specific

  • Sonnys Mom

    sicklameandlazy  Been wondering about that ever since viewing that 234 video... thanks!

  • Tango9

    SEAN SPOONTS Great advice, Sean.  It stands to reason that your body is your #1 resource.  Neglect it at your peril.

  • NMOne

    Minou_Demimonde That ransom is assuming that someone wants him back.....


    Not bragging, but I came out with marginally better hearing after four years and over 500 hours in helicopters.  I hunted Subs too as part of my rating and spent hours with headphones on listening to sounds in the water so hearing was vital to my job.  I took it seriously, no loud music in the car or rock concerts ,etc' etc'.  I used to put in ear plugs and then my helmet with built in hearing protection and speakers for comms.  I'd just turn up the ICS volume a bit for the cockpit chatter but I wanted to eliminate the HF whine from those two jet turbines four feet above my head.  It worked.  I also protected my eyes and wore my dark helmet visor all the time because a Flight Surgeon told me that the clear one magnified the sunlight coming into the retina and was more protection from debris than for visual acuity .  I still pushed hard physically but I took care of my feet, hands, eyes, ears afterward like any other gear I had.  I should think the protection gear is better now than it was back in the 80's.