It’s not their most glamorous mission, but combing the bottom of Victory Pond is necessary to ensure safety for Ranger students and Rangers in Action participants. The mission falls to the 4th Ranger Training Battalion combat divers to scour the bottom for debris that could float to the top and cause injuries.
Before dawn Aug. 23, MAJ Dan Knight, the unit’s officer in charge, and SSG Richard Legere suited up for the mission. They carried a load of more than 90 pounds including air tank, regulator, buoyancy compensators, fins, mask and dive tool.
It takes about 30 minutes of preparation for the less than 20-minute dive.
“We don’t want to find something wrong once they are under water,” diver medic SGT Izaak Thibodeaux said.Once the divers splashed down, visibility was only about a foot. The pair felt along cables at the bottom of the pond, some 21 feet below the surface, looking for hazards. Since every military dive is considered high risk, Knight said, SFC Brian Rice, dive locker NCOIC, and Thibodeaux watched from a Zodiac boat above. After about 30 minutes in the water, the two divers came up empty-handed: the desired result.
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Knight and Legere are among fewer than 80 Ranger divers. The scarcity is due in part to the rigorous training. Almost half who try for the “bubble” scuba insignia fail, Rice said.
Rice said without the Pre-Combat Divers Qualifications Course taught at Fort Benning the success rate would be even less.
“It’s another world,” Rice said of the main five-week Combat Diver Course taught in Key West, Fla. “The tasks you have to do, you do in an alien environment, underwater.”
In addition, instructors put stressors on the students like cutting off their air.
“It’s all to insure you won’t panic if something goes wrong,” Knight said. “Rangers have the physical capabilities to make it … it’s just a matter of overcoming the mental difficulty.”
Civilians who scuba do it for fun and recreation but for the military it is much more serious, Knight said. Combat divers are trained in methods of infiltration and most are attached to Special Forces units.
“The Army has a way of taking the fun out of it,” Knight said. “That’s not to say we don’t have fun. The worst day diving is still better than anything else.”
The divers have to meet certain qualifications to stay current, so in addition to Victory Pond, they have made the plunge into Robin Lake at Callaway Gardens, Lake Eufaula, Ala., and even in Florida waters.
Currently there are only eight divers and a medic in the 4th RTB Combat Diver Unit, Rice said, and he is trying to recruit more.
The two-week pre-scuba course begins Sept. 13. Those who are interested and can pass the Army Physical Fitness Test can contact him at the dive locker at 706-544-8086.