‘Whattaya’ Wanna’ Be….?!’: Intro

 

“What time is it?!?!?!” Roared the ultra-fit NCO running pool week.  

“It’s magic time!!!” We answered back hanging on the sides of the pool in the deep end. 

“And what are we gonna do?!?!” He snapped back. 

“Let the good times roll!” We replied, our vocal enthusiasm not conveying our consternation of what we all knew was coming. 

“Prepare to crossover….crossover!!!” punctuated with a whistle.  We all took a breath and pushed off the side of the pool. 

A crossover is an exercise where you swim the width of the pool underwater with all your equipment on:  Fins, mask, 16lb weight belt, twin 80 cubic inch SCUBA tanks, a horse collar buoyancy compensator (full deflated), and a breathing regulator turned off and nicely tucked away in the front pocket of the buoyancy compensator.  All of us were in the deep end, one line hanging on each wall facing each other when the whistle blew. 

I pulled my heels up as close to my butt as possible, feet flat against the wall, and when I heard the whistle I took a deep breath and using my legs pushed off the wall along with the other 18 men on my side.  Once underwater I started finning, counting the lines.  It was a seven-lane pool so there were six lines.  We were “high” side so I positioned myself with another student swimming straight at me crossing over from the other side of the pool and he was “low”side.  I reached with my hands as he went under me and grabbed the bottom of his tanks and pulled mightily.  This is sanctioned and helps both of us get to the other side.  Line five, then six and touch the wall before you surface.  Everyone is surfacing and gulping for air.  The instructors are in our faces yelling for us to pack it in, meaning we all face the deep end hanging on with one arm, using our legs as friction as well to hang on the wall.  Then we squished towards the deep end, your chest against another man’s tanks. There’s a 30-second interval from the time the first man surfaces.

He bellows again “Prepare to crossover….crossover!!!” Whistle.  And so it goes…

I was in Pool Week at the Special Forces Combat Diver Qualification Course (CDQC). 

Six months prior I had just graduated language school, been promoted to Sergeant (I’m the king of the world), found and married my Silver Haired Queen (SHQ) clearly getting the better deal, and was on my way to my first overseas assignment to Bad Toelz, Germany, 10th Special Forces Group.  I was young, really young.  I was what was known as an “SF baby” coming off the street straight into Special Forces during the Reagan Administration.  I had already been on my first team but only for a year, barely scratching the surface in the Special Forces world. Now I was on my way to a forward Battalion in Western Germany during the heart of the cold war. 

I touched down in Munich Germany without incident.  Failed in deciphering the efficient but confusing train system and foolishly took a taxi to Bad Toelz to the tune of 40 marks.  Upon arriving the Kaserne, roughly translated as barracks and most definitely not a post or fort that we would think of in the U.S.  Bad Toelz is small and quaint and I immediately ran into an old friend inexplicably standing in a line for chow at parade rest, not something SF guys generally do. He quickly shook my hand and went back to parade rest looking dead ahead.  Then in staccato he told me that I was on his team, it was a “SCUBA” team, and that he was in PLDC and couldn’t talk.  Then he went silent.  Turns out he could have gotten in trouble for even acknowledging me as PLDC is the Primary Leadership Development Course designed for young Non-Commissioned officers and you were not to acknowledge anyone outside the program.  As I walked away scratching my head at his welcome I was absorbing the information he gave and kept repeating “I am on a SCUBA team….”.  

SCUBA is a bit of an anomaly in Special Forces.  It’s known as a “specialty team”, the other being HALO, and it comes with its benefits and drawbacks.  Generally speaking, you don’t just get on this kind of team.  For SCUBA you swallow the pill and go to pre-SCUBA to see if you make the cut.  This allows for being selective of who manages to make it to your team.  “Hey, you should go to pre-scuba!” And if they made it it was easy to roll them up.  Conversely, it’s easy to lose sight of basic Special Forces missions basking in the glow of the infiltration method of a specialty team, and trust me we would hear about this.  All. The. Time.  “You SCUBA guys are just prima donnas” and in many cases, it was absolutely true.  Fortunately the teams I was raised on and eventually led focused on being a Special Forces soldier first SCUBA second and at the end of the day, you ruck up and start walking just like everyone else.  Some of you may ask why would we even have water teams because we have those other guys.  Fair question.  Aside from the fact that we are smarter and better looking, we used SCUBA as a means for infiltration and exfiltration and left the large majority of those other types of water operations to them.

Earning a SCUBA badge, like them or hate them, says something about the individual.  It’s a tough school (hey wanna wrestle with drowning face to face?  Nothing like it…) and it’s not for everybody. Managing yourself underwater without air takes unique discipline.  There was well over 50% attrition rate in the early ’80s.  Then Special Forces instituted “pre-SCUBA”, a two-week course designed to decrease the attrition rate.  It mimics the first week of the CDQC for two consecutive weeks.  Despite the advent of pre-SCUBA the attrition rate still hovers close to 40%.  Just to be fair I assess there are plenty of guys who could put the beat down on me that did not make it through pre-SCUBA, as I said it’s a unique environment.  

My class in October of 1986 started with 18 dive teams (sets of two for a total of 36 folks) and finished with eleven teams or 22 folks.  This means fourteen individuals from across the SOF world (Green Berets, Rangers, Air Force Pararescue and Combat Controllers, and Marine Force Recon) were gone when the smoke cleared.  So if you saw someone with a SCUBA badge, much like a Ranger Tab, they got a modicum of respect.  Sidenote:  It was a unique, seldom seen badge looking somewhat like an astronaut helmet resulting in numerous questions from those not initiated as to what it was.  “Space Badge” of course was the standard answer usually followed by “door gunner on the shuttle” and guffaws.  It was changed some years back and now gets way more cool points.

To attend one had to pass an Army PT test with a score of 60% or better, you have to run a sub-fourteen-minute two-mile, a CDQC qualification test consisting of a 50-meter subsurface swim, tread water for two minutes without using your hands, and 10lb clump retrieval from the deep end of the pool culminating in remaining on the surface stating your full name and social security number and lastly a 500-meter swim in the pool using only the breaststroke or the sidestroke. Assuming you got through this you went on and this was the easy part.  This is the “official” test.  Pre-SCUBA became a prerequisite as well requiring one to be recommended by your unit to attend after pre-SCUBA.   

The school when I went through was four weeks long colloquially consisting of pool week, open circuit (O/C) week, closed-circuit (C/C) week, and the “all other” week covering various and sundry military diving know-how.  

And all the weeks had “specialty PT” which is code for it was hard, like harder than Chinese encryption.   Embedded across each of these weeks was classroom work applicable to diving.  Dive physics & injuries, tides, waves, and currents (“…do not affect the Combat Diver…”), dangerous sea life, maritime operations, and CPR just to name a few.  Notably, the course has morphed several times adding and subtracting skills as required including removing c/c week, adding surface operations (long-range boating, kayaking, navigating, etc.) adding an additional three weeks to an already exhausting school but as for me I can only speak to what it was like when I attended.  

I thought I’d walk you through this experience via a series of vignettes with an introduction then address the rest of the school as it rolls out of my memories. 

Maybe if we ask nice @bossmongo will weigh in as well. “Hey can you tells us about the time you almost died in the pool again???  I love that one…”

What do you wanna be?

Combat Diver!

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  1. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    SCUBA was the hardest school I went to.

    It is literally the only school I didn’t know if I would make it (live) through the day, every day.

    It is also literally the only school where I felt like a commando every day.

    I didn’t get to experience crossovers.  By the time I went, the school no longer did crossovers.  We were killing too many students.  Instead, we got to perform “drown-proofing.”  Feet bound together, hands bound behind your back.  Now the bindings are velcro secured, so if you want to freak out and bust out, by all means, do so.  But then you’re also bounced from the course.  Enter the pool and do a five minute “dead man float.”  When directed, swim the circumference of the pool for 400m.  At the completion of the 400m, bob (sink to the bottom of the pool, push off to the surface for some sweet, sweet air, then do it again nonstop).  I want to say that was for five minutes, but don’t quote me on that.  Once your bobs were complete, you would be told to execute a forward flip.  So, down to the bottom of the pool until your feet touch bottom.  Do a forward flip in the water, then you have to hit the bottom with a  foot-touch before you ascend to the surface.  Next order was back flip.  Same rules.  This causes a lot of freak outs because there is no way to do a back flip at the deep end of the pool without water thoroughly investing your nose.  Not fun.  After the flips, they let you bob for a little to allow you to re-capture your chi, then they throw a diving mask in the water and once it hits bottom, you get the order to retrieve the mask.  You have to retrieve the mask–with your teeth–and hold it there while you bob five times.  When you surface on each bob, and try to breathe through your nose, the water sluicing off of you would prevent that, and you’d inhale a bunch of water. If you tried to breathe through the mouth, that rascally mask would insure that you’d inhale a bunch of water.  My personal technique was to blow out all my air (being negative buoyant at the time) and just gut out the five bobs without even trying to breathe.  At the end of the five mask-in-teeth bobs, there are other students present to immediately grab you and carry you to the edge of the pool and take off your bindings.

    This might sound like it sucks.  I’m just glad I never had to do crossovers.

    • #1
  2. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    Thank you both (Boss Mongo gets credit for his comment) for telling us all why we have the best military in the world.

    Let’s keep it that way.

    • #2
  3. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Thank you both (Boss Mongo gets credit for his comment) for telling us all why we have the best military in the world.

    Let’s keep it that way.

    And thank you for being part of that best.

    • #3
  4. OmegaPaladin Moderator
    OmegaPaladin
    @OmegaPaladin

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    SCUBA was the hardest school I went to.

    It is literally the only school I didn’t know if I would make it (live) through the day, every day.

    It is also literally the only school where I felt like a commando every day.

    I didn’t get to experience crossovers. By the time I went, the school no longer did crossovers. We were killing too many students. Instead, we got to perform “drown-proofing.” Feet bound together, hands bound behind your back. Now the bindings are velcro secured, so if you want to freak out and bust out, by all means, do so. But then you’re also bounced from the course. Enter the pool and do a five minute “dead man float.” When directed, swim the circumference of the pool for 400m. At the completion of the 400m, bob (sink to the bottom of the pool, push off to the surface for some sweet, sweet air, then do it again nonstop). I want to say that was for five minutes, but don’t quote me on that. Once your bobs were complete, you would be told to execute a forward flip. So, down to the bottom of the pool until your feet touch bottom. Do a forward flip in the water, then you have to hit the bottom with a foot-touch before you ascend to the surface. Next order was back flip. Same rules. This causes a lot of freak outs because there is no way to do a back flip at the deep end of the pool without water thoroughly investing your nose. Not fun. After the flips, they let you bob for a little to allow you to re-capture your chi, then they throw a diving mask in the water and once it hits bottom, you get the order to retrieve the mask. You have to retrieve the mask–with your teeth–and hold it there while you bob five times. When you surface on each bob, and try to breathe through your nose, the water sluicing off of you would prevent that, and you’d inhale a bunch of water. If you tried to breathe through the mouth, that rascally mask would insure that you’d inhale a bunch of water. My personal technique was to blow out all my air (being negative buoyant at the time) and just gut out the five bobs without even trying to breathe. At the end of the five mask-in-teeth bobs, there are other students present to immediately grab you and carry you to the edge of the pool and take off your bindings.

    This might sound like it sucks. I’m just glad I never had to do crossovers.

    How the hell do you do that?  How do you even train for that?  Even if I got the Captain America treatment, I would have not idea how to pull some of those maneuvers off.  Doing flips and swimming effectively bound hands and feet?  What kind of stroke is that?

    In my field, it would be like memorizing the entirety of 29 CFR 1910, and be able to quote the standards violated in an image shown for 1 second, dozens of times, with false positives added in there.

    • #4
  5. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):
    How the hell do you do that?  How do you even train for that? 

    First, constantly doing technique training–but doing it mindfully to look for efficiencies.  I didn’t figure out my best bet to bob five times with the mask in my teeth was blowing it all out and going for it my tenth–or even twentieth time practicing it.

    Breathing consciously and staying as relaxed as possible to stave off O2 deficit helps.

    dajohohey wanna wrestle with drowning face to face?  Nothing like it…

    This is a big part of the whole school:  you have to get your head around your own mortality.  The first six hours of academic instruction is “dive injuries and dangerous marine life.”  Wait, thinks the student, I can do everything right and still get crippled or dead?  Why am I here, again?

    Basically, you have to start with the mindset that you’ll die before you quit (and internalize it, Rah! Rah! self-motivation won’t cut it), then all you have to worry about is passing all the myriad tests of your skills acquired at the school.

    • #5
  6. The Scarecrow Thatcher
    The Scarecrow
    @TheScarecrow

    Did they have special fitting scuba tanks for the pregnant candidates?

    • #6
  7. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    The Scarecrow (View Comment):

    Did they have special fitting scuba tanks for the pregnant candidates?

    I wanna hear about Alpine SCUBA in Bavaria. The advanced  training is pretty much the same stuff, but you’ve got to yodel while you’re doing it.

    • #7
  8. dajoho Member
    dajoho
    @dajoho

    Percival (View Comment):

    The Scarecrow (View Comment):

    Did they have special fitting scuba tanks for the pregnant candidates?

    I wanna hear about Alpine SCUBA in Bavaria. The advanced training is pretty much the same stuff, but you’ve got to yodel while you’re doing it.

    And drink beer

    • #8
  9. dajoho Member
    dajoho
    @dajoho

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    SCUBA was the hardest school I went to.

    It is literally the only school I didn’t know if I would make it (live) through the day, every day.

    It is also literally the only school where I felt like a commando every day.

    I didn’t get to experience crossovers. By the time I went, the school no longer did crossovers. We were killing too many students. Instead, we got to perform “drown-proofing.” Feet bound together, hands bound behind your back. Now the bindings are velcro secured, so if you want to freak out and bust out, by all means, do so. But then you’re also bounced from the course. Enter the pool and do a five minute “dead man float.” When directed, swim the circumference of the pool for 400m. At the completion of the 400m, bob (sink to the bottom of the pool, push off to the surface for some sweet, sweet air, then do it again nonstop). I want to say that was for five minutes, but don’t quote me on that. Once your bobs were complete, you would be told to execute a forward flip. So, down to the bottom of the pool until your feet touch bottom. Do a forward flip in the water, then you have to hit the bottom with a foot-touch before you ascend to the surface. Next order was back flip. Same rules. This causes a lot of freak outs because there is no way to do a back flip at the deep end of the pool without water thoroughly investing your nose. Not fun. After the flips, they let you bob for a little to allow you to re-capture your chi, then they throw a diving mask in the water and once it hits bottom, you get the order to retrieve the mask. You have to retrieve the mask–with your teeth–and hold it there while you bob five times. When you surface on each bob, and try to breathe through your nose, the water sluicing off of you would prevent that, and you’d inhale a bunch of water. If you tried to breathe through the mouth, that rascally mask would insure that you’d inhale a bunch of water. My personal technique was to blow out all my air (being negative buoyant at the time) and just gut out the five bobs without even trying to breathe. At the end of the five mask-in-teeth bobs, there are other students present to immediately grab you and carry you to the edge of the pool and take off your bindings.

    This might sound like it sucks. I’m just glad I never had to do crossovers.

    Thanks Boss, I am going to cover crossover is detail in my next iteration including the verified “crossover insomnia” it caused.  

     

    • #9
  10. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    dajoho (View Comment):
    Thanks Boss, I am going to cover crossover is detail in my next iteration including the verified “crossover insomnia” it caused.

    Uh, didn’t see that this was an intro.  I’ll try not to jump in with any “yes, and…” spoilers.  Well, except for this:

    The proximate cause of  more than 90% of all military and civilian dive fatalities–not crises, but fatalities–is diver panic.  So, one of the primary objectives of the school is to build a panic proof diver.  Put a guy under mental (I could fail!  Boyle’s Law sucks!), emotional (I could die! Plus the mean instructor yelled at me!) and physical (1,000 flutter kicks before we even got in the pool?  Who does that?) stress and then make that guy go subsurface and solve problems to get to either his air or his O2.  Your mission is to keep your chi together.  You panic–typically by bolting for the surface–and you’re gone.

    You can re-test a failed skill requirement.  Panicking is an immediate ticket home.

    I’m more than sure that you’ll see there actually is a method to the madness as @dajoho‘s story unfolds.

    • #10
  11. dajoho Member
    dajoho
    @dajoho

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    dajoho (View Comment):
    Thanks Boss, I am going to cover crossover is detail in my next iteration including the verified “crossover insomnia” it caused.

    Uh, didn’t see that this was an intro. I’ll try not to jump in with any “yes, and…” spoilers. Well, except for this:

    The proximate cause of more than 90% of all dive military and civilian dive fatalities–not crises, but fatalities–is diver panic. So, one of the primary objectives of the school is to build a panic proof diver. Put a guy under mental (I could fail! Boyle’s Law sucks!), emotional (I could die! Plus the mean instructor yelled at me!) and physical (1,000 flutter kicks before we even got in the pool? Who does that?) stress and then make that guy go subsurface and solve problems to get to either his air or his O2. Your mission is to keep your chi together. You panic–typically by bolting for the surface–and you’re gone.

    You can re-test a failed skill requirement. Panicking is an immediate ticket home.

    I’m more than sure that you’ll see there actually is a method to the madness as @ dajoho‘s story unfolds.

    No worries brother. I’m trying to figure out a way to describe crossovers and I’m already having PTSD. 

    • #11
  12. Chris Gregerson Member
    Chris Gregerson
    @ChrisGregerson

    I attended the Special Forces Underwater Infiltration Course in 1976. We had a week of pool work at Fort Devens, MA, where the 10th SFG(A) was stationed. The next phase started with a water jump at Fort Bragg, NC, into MacArthur Lake. More pool work and lake work using Inflatable Boat Small (IBS-15). Then we flew down to Key West, FL directly to the school by jumping into drop zone shark which is in the bay between Key West and Fleming Key.

    For me the most memorable event was my second day at Key West, in the pool. We were wearing twin 72 cu ft tanks, masks, and fins. We were doing a drill in the deep end of the pool where we wore our fins on our hands, sunk to the pool bottom, then pushed up with our legs and stroked with our fin/hands. This was a pretty demanding exercise leading to O2 deprivation. On my final push off I slipped on the lane line on the bottom of the pool and fell on my back. I looked up at the 10 feet of water between me and air. I was thinking “this is training they won’t let me die.” Then I came to the conclusion that the instructors didn’t know my predicament and yes, they would let me die. So I stood up not on the line and pushed off for the surface gasping for air.  The instructor did comment that I looked a bit over taxed when I surfaced. After that everything was doable, even the submarine lock out drill. 

    • #12
  13. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Chris Gregerson (View Comment):
    I attended the Special Forces Underwater Infiltration Course in 1976.

    Outstanding!  I realize I was riding around the cul-de-sac on a Big Wheel at the time…leg training, so I’d be ready for flutter kicks when they came along.

    • #13
  14. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    Chris Gregerson (View Comment):
    I attended the Special Forces Underwater Infiltration Course in 1976.

    Outstanding! I realize I was riding around the cul-de-sac on a Big Wheel at the time…leg training, so I’d be ready for flutter kicks when they came along.

    I can just imagine Boss on a Big Wheel.

    • #14
  15. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Chris Gregerson (View Comment):
    We were doing a drill in the deep end of the pool where we wore our fins on our hands, sunk to the pool bottom, then pushed up with our legs and stroked with our fin/hands. This was a pretty demanding exercise leading to O2 deprivation. On my final push off I slipped on the lane line on the bottom of the pool and fell on my back. I looked up at the 10 feet of water between me and air. I was thinking “this is training they won’t let me die.” Then I came to the conclusion that the instructors didn’t know my predicament and yes, they would let me die.

    This wasn’t one of the skills we had to learn.  But, during pre-SCUBA, some of the old-school guys wanted to share some of the joys of that particular event.  The only technique instruction we got was “Your fins can either be on your hands or your feet.”

    Standard pool work load: twin 80 tanks, weight belt (12? 14 pounds?) mask and fins.  UDT vest but no buoyancy compensator.

    On command I entered the pool and sank to the bottom.  I assumed a deep squat, pushed off as hard as I could, and began kicking and pulling as hard as I could.  About a foot short of the surface, my momentum burned out and I was headed back to the bottom of the pool.  Well, that didn’t work out so good.  Okay.

    I sat on the bottom of the pool, took my fins off, and put them on my hands.  Plan is, hands extended overhead, big push with the legs, when momentum starts bleeding down then big sweep with the hands/fins.  That’s the ticket.

    Now, one would think that it would be intuitively obvious to the casual observer that if the overhead fins aren’t tightly pressed together, they’ll just act as big ol’ breaks.  Einstein here didn’t get the message.  I shoved off, stopped after about two feet, cruciform, and plunked right back on the pool floor.

    Ewkay.  I’m done.  I slung the fins off my hands, walked to the side of the pool, and climbed up to the surface and hung on the pool wall.  I’ll bet there are still Mongo fingerprints on that side of the Ft. Campbell’s officer club pool.

    An instructor ran over, got in my face and yelled, “Mister, you better get off of my wall!

    “Sar’nt, right here right now, this is my damn wall.”

    He laughed and walked away.

     

    • #15