Canadian Combat Divers Experience Invaluable Training at RIMPAC 16

Combat Divers Lt Josh Bennett (left) and Sgt Nathan Miller, search a sunken ship off the coast of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii during RIMPAC 16 on July 16, 2016 // Les plongeurs de combat, Lt Josh Bennett (gauche) et Sgt Nathan Miller fouillent l’épave d’un navire au large des côtes de Pearl Harbor, à Hawaï, durant l’exercice RIMPAC 2016
Les plongeurs de combat, Lt Josh Bennett (gauche) et Sgt Nathan Miller fouillent l’épave d’un navire au large des côtes de Pearl Harbor, à Hawaï, durant l’exercice RIMPAC 2016
Publication Date 
03 Aug 2016

Article reprinted from Army News July 29, 2016

By: Inez Neville, Exercise Rim of the Pacific Communications Officer

For Sergeant Nathan Miller and Lieutenant Josh Bennett, being in Hawaii for Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) is fantastic. Both are members of the Canadian combat dive team deployed on RIMPAC; Sergeant Miller is the dive non-commissioned officer, while Lieutenant Bennett is the team leader. Their team is attached to the other Canadian clearance divers also participating in the exercise. Both agree this is a very positive experience for the team.

“We are here to work with other nations, as well as the Canadian clearance divers,” says Sergeant Miller.  “Working with Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, and Chinese divers has been an excellent opportunity for us to develop our skills and learn from others.”

Though every nation is unique, the more they collaborate, the more obvious the similarities become. Lieutenant Bennett notes the biggest difference between Canada and other countries is that for others, diving is their job 100% of the time. At their home unit in Gagetown, New Brunswick, both men are engineers first and combat divers second, so this is a great chance for them to work with full-time military divers.

Hawaii is a great place to dive because visibility in the water is amazing; at home, they do inland dives, in shallow water with limited visibility. They are diving a lot more here than they would at home, so it is a great experience, though it is physically challenging. Divers must be in the best physical shape, so training regimens prior to deployments and exercises are taken very seriously. Before arriving, they followed a group training regime to ensure they were in tip top shape. There’s also a yearly physical training test and a medical clearance before being allowed to join this type of exercise.

At RIMPAC, the team is working with other nations to respond to an imagined scenario where there’s been an earthquake, with a heavy focus on humanitarian assistance disaster relief. In this scenario, the dive teams are responsible for remediation of a port that is being blocked by an object. If an object has sunk, they locate it, do reconnaissance of the area, and come up with a plan to open the port so ships can move in.

“We’ve been working on a weekly schedule,” Lieutenant Bennett explains. “So the first day, we try to find the object, using sonar technology or by doing straight diving, and the next day we come back with a plan to rig and lift the object, then remove it from the water by towing it securely and safely. RIMPAC is great practice because there are foreign objects in the ocean we don’t see every day. We don’t often get to recover sea cans, old ships, fishing vessels, or safes, so this is great practice.”

They’re also here working with Canadian clearance divers, another training opportunity. Bennett explains, “We’ve learned so much, specifically about their sonar capabilities, and they’re an incredibly capable team so it’s fun to work with them.” In fact, many of the best combat divers end up making the transition to the clearance diving team, so it’s a great opportunity for the teams to work together in an environment like RIMPAC.

By rolling RIMPAC out in three phases—crawl, walk, run—the teams had time to get to know each other, feel confident in their abilities, and discuss the contributions they could make, which was key. The Canadians feel they bring considerable capabilities to the table. “We’ve brought a great lifting capacity and gear, which gives other teams a great chance to employ us when they need to get something up quickly,” Lieutenant Bennett explains. Lifting is when divers go to the bottom of the ocean, find lifting points on a foreign object, and attach bags that get filled with air. The air can be fed from the surface or from a bottle underwater, and once the bag is full, the suction breaks off the bottom, and the object is brought to the surface safely.

Besides an excellent lifting capability, another thing the combat diving team does really well is employing their skills as combat engineers. “We are able to quickly identify shortcomings once we’re on the ground, and build things and work to improve the dive site so people can function more efficiently in the area,” says Sergeant Miller. “We definitely also bring the ‘get ‘er done’ attitude of the Canadian Army.”

A positive attitude is key, and communication and cooperation crucial. “As with any joint exercise, developing relationships is essential,” Lieutenant Bennett explains. “I know I can call any of these people up to ask them anything about operations before I jump into something unknown.” Working with other countries is a phenomenal opportunity for the team, and they will continue to take advantage of it until RIMPAC concludes on August 4, 2016.