When the phase ‘combat diver’ is mentioned most folks automatically think of the United States Navy SEALs. What is lesser known is that the United States Army also has combat divers. Each of the seven Special Forces groups has several combat dive teams. In addition, each SF group has at least one Dive Medical Officer. To the people not familiar with the military diving community this probably sounds like a bunch of guys getting together to go SCUBA diving off sunny beaches in the Caribbean in t-shirts and swim trunks. Or perhaps the perception is of guys wearing light-weight wet suits plucking lobsters off the ocean floor in the chilly waters off the New England coast.
Not so much.
There is a lot of work to being on a Special Forces Combat Dive team. For the individual team member there is the challenge of passing Pre-SCUBA, the Combat Diver course at Key West, and then maintaining your physical fitness and swim skills to pass a dive re-qualification once or twice a year. At the collective level there are the detachment level requirements for proficiency, advanced training beyond what is taught at the basic SF dive school at Key West, and the requirement to have members of the team who are qualified as a Combat Diving Supervisor (CDS) and Dive Medical Technician (DMT) – preferably two of each.
Then there are the requirements for support that are provided by the higher headquarters – the designation of a Group Dive Officer; staffing and equipping of a Group Dive Locker, and having a medical officer on the staff to who is a designated and qualified Dive Medical Officer (DMO).
The Dive Medical Officer is a rare item – there are only a few medical officers that have all the qualifications to fill the position. First of all you need a doctor who is willing to join the Army, jump out of airplanes, maintain peak physical fitness, be willing to deploy continuously to remote austere locations, serve in combat zones, and then be assigned to a Special Forces group. Then he needs to get dive qualified; not just in compressed air but also with rebreather (o2) rigs and mixed-gas equipment. After that he has to attend advanced training in the medical field to include the U.S. Navy’s Dive Medical Officer school.
A recently published article provides a profile of a Dive Medical Officer who is assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group based at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida as a battalion surgeon. Ian May is a graduate of the Flight Surgeon School, Airborne School, and the Dive Medical Officer School – as well as other military and civilian certifications.
You can read the article Diving Deep with Special Forces, posted on Washington College website, June 23, 2016. At the bottom of the article is a neat 7-minute long video of students going through training at the Navy’s DMO school. www.washcoll.edu/live/news/9172-diving-deep-with-special-forces
Image of divers emerging from the sea from www.nationalguardsf.com and diver badge from Wikipedia (Creative Commons license).
Note: The author served on a Special Forces Combat Dive team for over 15 years in the positions of Team Sergeant, Warrant Officer, and Combat Dive Supervisor. In addition, for several years he served as Battalion and then Group Dive Officer.