Editor’s note: SOFREP received this letter from a Special Forces Combat Diver who is currently serving in a senior position in a dive locker. In it, he describes the alarming issues and conditions that plague the Combat Diver capability and jeopardize the operational readiness of dive teams. The text was slightly redacted to ensure Operational Security.  

In the past, SOFREP has received and published several letters that aim to bring attention to important topics within the Special Operations community.

I’m writing this in response to the comments made by Lino Miani, the President of the Combat Diver Foundation, in his recent rebuttal of the SOFREP article written by Stavros Atlamazoglou.

My qualifications, listed below, are what allows me to comment on Special Forces Underwater Operations and the current issues within the Special Forces Combat Diver community.

Following graduation from the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC), I was assigned to a combat diver detachment. I completed the Combat Diver Qualification Course (CDQC) as well as the Combat Diving Supervisor Course (CDSC). I was an instructor at the Special Forces Underwater Operations (SFUWO) school in Key West, FL. My instructor duties allowed me to participate in all courses taught at the SFUWO including CDQC, CDSC, Diving Medical Technician Course (CDMT), and abbreviated versions of the Waterborne Infiltration Course (WIC). I served on another combat diver detachment and was furthermore assigned to a dive locker. I was also assigned to the Naval Special Warfare Center (NSWC), BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training), second phase (Dive) where I instructed SEAL students in combat swimmer (synonymous with combat diver) operations.

After retiring from active duty, I began working at a Maritime Operations Detachment (MOD), also known as a diver locker or Divers Life Support Maintenance Facility. My responsibilities are maintaining the MK25 Dräger oxygen rebreather, oxygen booster pumps, and ancillary equipment.

A different perspective on the state of the SF Combat Diver capability

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First I’d like to say it’s obvious Mr. Miani’s intentions are genuine in preserving the Army Special Forces Combat Diver history. Mr. Miani takes great effort in staying involved in the SF combat diver community to include visiting various Groups on occasion. However, I don’t agree with his assessment of current conditions within the SF combat diver community, which were accurately described in the original SOFREP article.

“Combat Divers are well represented among the leadership of the Joint Special Operations Force.”

Assuming that combat diver qualified commanders at levels such as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and his senior enlisted advisor are aware of today’s combat diver issues is like saying that anyone with a Ranger tab is aware of the day-to-day operations in the 75th Ranger Regiment battalions. In addition, the CJCS’s senior enlisted advisor is a PJ and certainly isn’t aware of the inner workings of Special Forces combat diving at an operational level. Attending the school 30 years ago and living the life on a daily basis are two completely different things.

One parenthetical observation I would like to make is that the dive locker and its personnel, active duty and contractors, are a part of the Advanced Skills Company (formerly the Operation and Training Company) which falls under Group Support Battalion. That means an entire company of Green Berets teaching advanced skills and maintaining advanced gear fall under a non-SF battalion commander and staff. That creates an unbelievably difficult procedure in acquiring funds for equipment and maintenance on the equipment used at the dive locker.

Most commanders don’t understand, or aren’t aware, that the U.S. Navy governs diving equipment maintenance through the USN 3M Maintenance Program. All Regimental dive lockers are subject to inspection by the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) and the Navy Safety Center at any time. The technicians are held accountable for the condition of the equipment and its associated gear.

“This is reflected in the equipment, training, and facilities that support the capability.”

The equipment referred to in the rebuttal — two-way communications, diver propulsion devices (DPD), wet/dry suits, etc. — does exist. However, its use and condition Mr. Miani is not aware of. Some of the equipment is decades old. SF dive lockers have displayed all these pieces of equipment during static displays over the last decades during VIP visits, dignitary visits, and tours of the facility, as Mr. Miani referred to conducting. However, an occasional visit to the dive locker doesn’t provide a complete picture of the equipment’s condition and underlying issues. And it certainly doesn’t provide enough insight for one to make a public assessment.

I will not go into great detail regarding equipment because I don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss specific equipment, its condition, and its frequency of use in a public forum. What I will say is that the items he mentioned are in no way, “not unused pieces of old technology, they were new design.” A blanket statement like this is very misleading and paints an inaccurate picture when read by SF leadership who have limited knowledge of day-to-day activities at the Group Maritime Operations Facilities.

Yes, all Groups have received new dive support vessels. Plenty of money was spent on those items but it must be taken into consideration that the boat upgrade program was forecast and budgeted eight years ago.

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Besides internal maintenance conducted by technicians at the dive locker, there are external maintenance requirements that cannot be conducted at the dive locker. As an example, divers’ air samples. Another example: oxygen booster pumps used to fill oxygen bottles for the MK 25 Dräger oxygen rebreather require periodic maintenance that cannot be conducted at the dive locker. Again, these are Navy-directed, time-sensitive maintenance requirements that must be forecast and paid for to avoid disrupting training cycles and more importantly compromising the safety of divers.

Indeed, some dive lockers are well-designed and maintained. Why? Because their entire compounds are practically brand new! Their dive lockers in no way represent the age and condition of all dive lockers within the Regiment. Take a look at what 19th SFG and 20th SFG are dealing with. Another example is the situation at the 10th SF Group dive locker, which was built in 1994. Just this year, the dive locker had its first hot water heater replacement after months of complaining about the brown water coming out of the sinks and showers. Rodent feces were prevalent throughout the facility to include in the oxygen safe room where the rebreathers are kept. Thankfully after years of diligent requesting and constant complaining, the oxygen safe room is undergoing a complete makeover to bring it within USN/MIL oxygen working environment standards.

Finally, I would just like to ask for clarification on Mr. Miani’s statement, “we are comfortable (for the moment) that the program is reasonably well resourced.”

Who is “we?”

If anyone is “we” it’s the men working at the dive lockers throughout the Regiment. And “we” certainly don’t agree with the majority of Mr. Miani’s observations.

What we do agree on is that maritime operations should always be a capability of Green Berets regardless of whether it’s been used in combat over the last 50 years. When is the last time we skied into combat? Or, rode snowmobiles into combat? Or static-line parachuted into combat?

Our capabilities should never be driven by what we’ve done lately. Those opposed to maintaining a maritime operations capability within Special Forces need to look down at the patch on their shoulder and remember what those three lightning bolts represent. Times have changed and if the decision is made to scrap Green Beret combat diving then do it. But, don’t use the capability as a recruiting tool and then put it back in the closet because there’s a price for maintaining it.