By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin A. Johndro, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West Det. Northwest
KEYPORT, Wash. — While most Sailors work on both land and sea, there is an extraordinary community that conducts their high-risk missions anywhere from the darkest depths of the world’s oceans to freezing arctic-like conditions underneath icebergs.
Navy Diver 1st Class (DSW/SW/EXW) Benjamin Gyger is the leading petty officer of Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division, Keyport and the recent recipient of the NUWC Sailor of the Year award.
A native of Portland, Mich., Gyger has been stationed at Keyport’s Dive Locker for more than a year of his 14 years in the Navy. He leads 18 enlisted Sailors at the locker.
“Being selected as the NUWC Sailor of the Year is about getting your guys qualified,” said Gyger. “It’s pretty easy to do since everyone loves their job and wants to get as qualified as they can.”
Under specific guidelines, Gyger qualifies his Sailors in basic self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA), diving chamber operator and the air diving system. Gyger’s Sailors must also qualify for their primary device, diving and salvage warfare.
“You have to pay it forward,” said Gyger. “I feel that if you take care of your people by doing that, you’re going to succeed in being nominated and potentially winning these kinds of awards.”
Capt. Dave Kohnke, NUWC Keyport’s Commander, said that Gyger is invaluable to the Dive Locker.
“I’m very proud to again have a Keyporter named NUWC’s Sailor of the Year,” said Kohnke. “ND1 Gyger is a great example of the professionalism, teamwork, and technical excellence that make Keyport’s capabilities so vital to the Fleet. It’s great to see his skills and leadership recognized across the entire Naval Undersea Warfare Center.”
Gyger enlisted as an undesignated seaman in Feb. 2000 and started his career as a boatswain’s mate on the Harpers Ferry- class dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51), homeported in Little Creek, Va.
“After four years on the ship, I was a Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class,” said Gyger. “Making first class petty officer was as difficult to make as it is today, so I looked to get into another rate.”
In the diving community, it’s much like any Navy special warfare program. It’s a brotherhood, Gyger said.
“I wanted to be a part of the diving brotherhood,” said Gyger. “The community itself and the camaraderie is top notch; the best.”
Throughout his time at Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center in Panama City, Fla., he quickly learned why there are a select few individuals who become Navy divers.
“The toughest part about being a diver is it’s physically and educationally demanding,” said Gyger. “If your body isn’t physically fit, prepare to struggle. If you have a hard time retaining the classroom information, prepare to study hard.”
Gyger admitted that having a group study benefited him significantly throughout his process in becoming a Navy diver.
Throughout his career he amassed many dives, but there is one dive that sticks in his mind as the toughest.
“The USS Port Royal had run aground in 2009 in Hawaii’s reef runway,” said Gyger. “Looking back on that, it was probably one of the most difficult tasks I’ve endeavored in my diving career.”
Although Port Royal did not leak any hazardous material into the reef, Navy divers still needed to develop a plan to free the ship without excess damage to the reef.
“We had to handle wire rope for some of the process to free the ship,” said Gyger. “Wire rope is a type of cable which consists of several strands of metal wire laid into a helix. It’s heavy and materially difficult to handle.”
Currently at Keyport Dive Locker, Gyger supports dives in Dabob Bay in the Hood Canal. His team also works closely with divers from the Royal Canadian Navy.
“At the moment we are preparing for a job in Oregon,” said Gyger. “We will be assisting the Army Corps of Engineers with removing transducers at Foster Dam and we’ll also drill new eyebolts to run new cable through the dam.”
Depending on the classification of a dam, it is required to be inspected annually, every other year or every four years for potential hazards.
Knowing the slightest mistake in attention to detail in his gear can be potentially fatal, Gyger understands the risks involved with being a Navy diver.
“I have a wife and three kids at home,” said Gyger. “My job is to not only carry out what the Navy needs me to do, but it’s also getting in family time during my dwell period.”
Gyger finished as a finalist for Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) Sailor of the Year, but to have his name mentioned as a candidate was satisfying enough.
“It’s just an honor to be considered a finalist for NAVSEA Sailor of the year,” said Gyger. “It’s not only an opportunity to meet more of the senior Navy leadership, but also to meet the other Sailors of the Year who are outstanding in their own rights and can inspire me, as well.”