Dive Phase Combat Training Class 222 San Diego Bay 2315 Hours
JJ and Olga were a dive pair. This was their first closed-circuit combat night training mission and they couldn’t see more than a few inches in front of their faces.
It was like being in a dirty loud washing machine with no lights. Sound travels much faster in water than it does in air, and they could hear the loud whine of a speed boat and the occasional whuga whug from the larger vessels with propellers the size of cars.
JJ’s worst fear was getting out in the open harbor channel and finding that a big tanker was overhead. They’d have to suck bottom to avoid being chopped up like fruit in a blender. And the bottom of San Diego Bay was pretty nasty.
Open circuit or SCUBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) was one thing, the Draeger, German-built, was an entirely different style of diving. A hundred percent oxygen and no bubbles to give away your position.
The Draeger unit was surprisingly simple. It consisted of a small oxygen bottle, a canister filled with a chemical that absorbed CO2, and a double-hosed breathing tube that had a one-way check valve, all housed within a simple black chest-mounted container.
Inhale from the one-way hose and exhale out the other valve which scrubbed CO2 and put clean oxygen back into the closed-circuit rig. However, breathing pure O2 came with its own hazards.
Dive too deep and you get O2 toxicity. Anything deeper than 20 feet was a no-go. But stay above that depth and you could dive for over four hours. Long enough to swim into a harbor, plant a listening device or explosive, and get out undetected.
Tonight’s mock mission was to plant a magnetic mine on the target vessel and return to the pick-up point undetected.
The mines were numbered by dive pair so the instructors could grade who made it and how well the explosives were placed.
Two Weeks Before
JJ and Olga had both nearly drowned completing the famous “Pool Competency” exam. In fact, everyone who passes almost drowns, it’s part of what makes it such a challenging test.
The warm-up is to tread water with twin scuba tanks on your back and no fins for five minutes, hands out of the water. After that, you line up in one of four stations to begin your “test.”
As soon as you enter the water in full dive gear you are hit by two instructors. Mask and fins are gone immediately. Next, your primary air source is ripped from your mouth.
JJ remembered reading about the terrifying test in Brandon Webb’s The Red Circle. It actually helped her better prepare mentally.
Don’t be cocky. That’s what the book had taught her. And she took that lesson to heart.
When she got her own “Surf hit” it was no joke.
The instructors were extra hard on her and Olga because they were the first two women ever to make it past Hell Week. So the spotlight was especially on them.
She remembered Master chief Jackson pulling her and Olga aside to explain that the instructor staff would play no favorites to either of them. If anything they would have it harder than the rest of the class because no instructor wanted to send them forward to the SEAL Teams without being 100 percent sure they had what it took to make it professionally.
The staff had their own reputations to think about. Nobody wanted to send forward a polished turd to be dealt with by the Teams. Jackson pounded that into their heads: they had to finish every day to their best ability.
Like the sign on the concrete grinder, where they worked out with little white frog feet on the deck, said.
“The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday.”
So here she was down over 30 feet, near the bottom of the training tank, trying to stay alive.
The first hit was hard. The second felt like a truck hit her. Two instructors had smashed her, one in the head and one in the gut. She was seeing stars. The gut-punch knocked the wind out of her and she spit out her regulator mouth piece which was her main source of air. “That fucking sucked,” she thought to herself.
She couldn’t find the hose anywhere so she took off her tank and traced the hose with her hands. She still could barely see from the knock to her head, but she found her mouthpiece, sucked water first, then finally took in air much to her relief.
A few more hits like this and it was over. She got the signal to the surface. She made every attempt to fight back the panic of not having enough air but wanted to come up slowly to show the instructors she was in control.
She broke the surface with the hot California sun blinding her eyes, wiped her face, and took a slow deep inhale. She found the second phase head instructor Petty Officer 1st Class, John Percy staring straight at her.
“Good work JJ, we just may make a frogman out of you yet,” he smiled. “Rinse your gear, and take a seat in the winners’ circle.”
Team gear, your buddies’ gear, your gear, and then you could take care of yourself. Those were the rules and it made perfect sense to JJ.
“Hooyah Instructor Percy.”
Percy had this quiet confidence that came with being good at his job. Nobody knew much about him because unlike most of the other SEAL cadre who talked trash among themselves from which the students could pick up bits and pieces of gossip, Percy was all professional, all the time, and none of the staff messed with him.
“There must be a reason for that,” she thought to herself. All she knew was that Percy was from Oregon and an avid triathlete who rode his bike to BUD/S every day. He had won his age category in the last Ironman race in Hawaii. She only knew this because she and the class had overhead the second phase staff bragging about Percy’s win.
He also had three bullet hole scars in his chest and stomach. Most likely from heavy combat in Iraq with SEAL Team Seven, his last assignment. She’d heard the rumors about the Team’s deployment to Ramadi.
JJ likes him because he was no talk, just action. She and Olga had a crush on him. “Finally, real man for Olga,” she’d say to JJ knowing she liked him also.
For now, she was glad pool comp was over.
JJ and Olga’s Combat Dive San Diego Bay 0015
She and Olga had been underwater for over three hours and six minutes.
During dive planning one of the instructors had put up a PowerPoint slide with an old CBS News article from 2016: One Dead, Four Nearly Drown During Navy SEAL Training.
It had the desired effect on the class. Nobody talked above a whisper while planning their dives.
The instructors loved to dial up the heat and put the class under constant pressure to see who would crack. And many did. At this point in training, there were plenty of green and blue helmets under the infamous brass bell. Each phase of training came with its own colored helmet. Green for phase one, blue for dive phase, and lastly red for the land warfare phase.
“Don’t worry Olga, we got this.”
JJ had agreed to be the lead navigator with the attack board. The board had a glow-in-the-dark compass, stopwatch, and small whiteboard and pencil to take and take notes. They had to memorize their kick count, like a runner’s mile pace, in order to know when to change course underwater. Olga would back her up on time and carry the mine on her back.
They planned out their dive on the nautical chart with the incoming tide.
An hour later they suited up, slipped into the cool Pacific ocean, and submerged into darkness.
One hour 45 minutes up the side of the harbor entrance right side of the channel, turn left 45 degrees for 28 minutes to cross the main channel to the other side, back 45 degrees for another 36 minutes, then a small course adjustment 10 degrees to the left, another 15 degrees to the left and they should hit their target, a large mega yacht mid hull.
“Like Oligarch boat in Hvar,” said Olga during the brief. JJ had no idea where the hell Hvar was and she didn’t want to ask while they were planning their dive. “Olga would have carried on about it for too long,” she thought smiling to herself. She loved Olga but that woman loved to tell a story, especially if it was about one of her comic book heroes.
After the last course adjustment, they were getting a bit nervous because they hadn’t hit the ship and were almost a minute past the time when they should have hit the boat.
Then with a thud, JJ hit the boat, Olga piled right into her, and they were both temporarily entangled up in the small black nylon buddy line that kept them clipped in together.
Olga took her mouthpiece out, stuck her tongue out, and smiled at JJ. JJ flipped her the bird and they both laughed underwater.
They could hear the onboard pump systems and knew they should be careful to avoid any saltwater intakes. The last class lost two divers who had swum into an intake and couldn’t free themselves from the strong suction.
“Another nonverbal drop. Sucks to be you two,” thought JJ.
They traced their way to the right mid hull and started slowly surfacing, just enough to start seeing the lights from the marina dock. JJ signaled that she would take a shallow-water peek. She made her way up about five feet from the surface and saw the name of their target ship “Last Dance.”
She sank down slowly to Olga’s depth, as the light from the surface gave way to darkness, and passed Olga the “OK and ready” signal.
They two swam slowly under the boat to the two main propeller shafts. They could see the first dive pair’s mine faintly glowing green from the broken chem light on the right propeller shaft. Pair One was Wedge and Ty, two of the best navigators in the class.
At least she and Olga were the second pair out of 15 to hit the target ship. “Not bad. I’ll take it,” thought JJ. She gave Olga an underwater high five and then started to remove the mine from her back.
She handed the mine to Olga for her to place on the metal prop shaft. Once Olga made sure it was secure she signaled “OK” and took up position behind and to the right of JJ for the 50 minutes to the extraction point.
The extract was shorter in order to compress the exercise for the class.
“Thank God no fucking dolphins after us,” thought Olga. She had read of dolphins coming after candidates in The Red Circle.
Just as they were departing they both faintly saw Randy and his dive buddy making their way to the props. She shot him a thumbs-up as they swam past each other like two sailboats passing in the night. Randy gave her a thumbs-up back and she and Olga vanished into the dark water.
Fifty minutes later and they swam into the large concrete pilings of the Navy base pier. It was like swimming into an abandoned city of skyscrapers. They could make out the faint eery light of bioluminescence from a school of jellyfish. They were in another world. As they swam to the midpoint of the pier they could see the orange chem lights that signaled their extraction point. When they surfaced they were greeted by Ty and Wedge’s smiling faces. They helped her and Olga get out of their gear and onto the support boat and offload up the ladder and to the big white Navy truck that would carry their dive gear back to the dive phase compound.
“How was it guys?” asked Wedge.
“Easy Day,” Olga said.
They all laughed.
“Of course Olga, everything is easy for you,” Wedge said as he hoisted up their gear into the back of the truck.
“JJ expert navigator, my job easy,” Olga said as she flicked JJ’s left ear. “Ouch, you bitch!” JJ said smiling back.
“Well, Ty snuck some hot coffee for us in his thermos, you guys want some?”
“Hell yes!” JJ said.
They all passed around sips of the strong hot Navy coffee and whispered to each other about their dives. They all knew soon they’d be out at the island for the final phase of training and then surely off to war.
“The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday.”
To Be Continued…