By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jeffry Willadsen, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West Det. Northwest
EVERETT, Wash. – The Navy makes maintaining and repairing its technologically advanced ships a high priority. Although much of this can be done above the surface of the water, some work can only be done in the airless depths under the waves.
To safely complete this essential and potentially dangerous work, the Navy employs the skills of a highly trained group of Sailors called Navy divers.
In the Pacific Northwest, Navy divers assigned to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility, Det. Everett dive locker are key players in keeping the fleet’s ships in top operational condition.
“We know our ships forward and back, all of our surface ships here in the [Pacific] Northwest,” said Navy Diver 2nd Class Tucker Ludy, a native of Kirkland, Wash. “The dive locker is what is known as an “Underwater Ship’s Husbandry Locker.”
The kind of work the locker performs includes general maintenance and repairs to surface ships’ underwater hulls, propellers and other equipment. They also perform general diving and salvage operations as needed.
Naval Station Everett is homeport to USS Nimitz (CVN 68), a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, which gives the divers the chance to take on more challenging jobs.
“Whenever she’s in port we get a lot more work; usually bigger jobs [and] heavier equipment,” said Navy Diver 1st Class (DSW) Richard Ellis, the detachment’s unlimited diving supervisor and native of Puyallup, Wash.
Along with the carrier being in port, Everett’s dive locker has its own unique set of challenges.
“Here [it] is significant because our port is right on the mouth of the Snohomish River,” said Ellis. “We get a lot of snowmelt and mud run off into the river, so it’ll make our visibility pretty poor sometimes.”
Murky water can make diving jobs much more challenging, and even add risk to underwater work.
The dive locker is small, even though they sometimes work large and important jobs. Ludy said that he does not think this is necessarily a disadvantage.
“We’re really small compared to a lot of husbandry lockers, it’s a close knit locker,” said Ludy. “The cohesiveness is a lot tighter for a smaller locker and we take responsibility for all our own gear and our ships. I think being a small locker separates us and actually gives us an advantage.”
Navy divers are a special program in the Navy, along with special warfare Sea Air Land (SEAL) teams and Explosive Ordnance Disposal. An all-volunteer force, divers are very proud of the vigorous selection and training process they undergo in order to don their flippers.
“US Navy divers are the best in the world at what they do,” said Ludy. “We love our own community and the camaraderie we have.”
Ludy said that a part of what sets divers apart from other Sailors across the fleet is their willingness to put themselves in life-threatening situations.
“There is a standard of risk that we knowingly walk into every single time,” said Ludy. “We are willing to do it. We volunteer for it and we fought to actually put our lives on the line by trying to become [divers].”
During the rigorous training to become divers, Sailors are constantly reminded that their job is a dangerous one.
“They put you through a stressful environment and see if you can hold your composure and not panic,” said Ellis. “The worst thing you can do in the water is panic; it can be very mentally and physically stressful.
“Some people freak out,” said Ellis. “It’s a different environment when you’re working in the water. It takes a certain kind of individual.”
The Navy has employed divers in salvage and repair of ships, construction work, and military operations since the middle of the nineteenth century. Early Navy divers were swimmers and skin divers with techniques and missions dating back to the Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay.