Under Pressure – Regional Dive Locker West

by Petty Officer 3rd Class Kelly Parker

Submerged beneath the cold, murky waters of Elliot Bay are the elite team of Coast Guard members whose typical day in the office consists of being surrounded by cold-blooded aquatic animals while breathing through a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus.

Coast Guard Regional Dive Locker West, Maritime Safety and Security Team (MSST) 91109 San Diego, recently deployed to Seattle to support the Coast Guard Cutter Midgett and scavenge for tools accidentally dropped into the water below Station Seattle’s boathouse.

The Coast Guard Regional Dive Lockers, West and East, are made of up of dive teams who go below the waters surface to uphold the security of maritime assets and support aids-to-navigation and polar operations. They were established Oct. 1, 2008, and have been highly effective in both the safety of the dive teams and in safeguarding our shores to prevent maritime based terrorist attacks.

“There’s about twenty people at each dive locker consisting of both enlisted and officers.” said Petty Officer 1st Class David Straky, a Coast Guard Regional Dive Locker West dive team member. “We inspect ships, piers and high value assets for any type of explosive devices; anything that has to do with Homeland Security and anything else the Coast Guard might need us for in the marine environment,”

“We do pier sweeps and ship sweeps,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Victor Leon, a Coast Guard Regional Dive Locker West dive team member. “If there’s an important asset coming in through the port, we’ll go in there, dive, clear the pier and make sure there are no underwater threats.”

With possible dangers lurking around every corner, safety is always on the minds of each team member; from the time a diver suits up to the time they’re out of the water. Constant radio contact is kept with the divers below as a safety officer oversees the entire operation. Diver tenders keep track of where the divers are at all times by observing the bubbles that rise to the surface.

“Safety is always the top priority,” said Lt.j.g. Jedediah Raskie, Coast Guard Regional Dive Locker West dive team leader. “We make sure we go down the checklist.”

It’s not unusual for these divers to find themselves in waters with low visibility and not very suitable for contact with the human skin due to pollutants. The proper gear requires a diver to be suited from head to toe.

“Most of the time we’re diving in cold water here on the West Coast,” said Raskie. “Visibility is usually not that good. A lot of times we’re using our hands as our eyes.”

With the strenuous missions and lengthy work day it’s important for the dive teams to maintain physical fitness and constantly train when not on a mission. Highly motivated and a safe conscientious person are the qualities the dive teams look for in new recruits.

For a Coast Guard member to join the dive program they have to pass a physical fitness evaluation and complete a six week scuba diving course at the Navy Salvage and Diving Training Center in Panama City, Fla. Another prerequisite is for the trainee to feel at ease during the long periods of time underwater.

“I immediately feel extremely comfortable once I’m underwater,” said Straky. “It’s a good feeling. I like being under there and seeing what’s going on.”

“Being underwater and breathing compressed air, it’s exciting,” said Leon. “It’s exciting, yet nerve racking. We tend to do a good job of staying cool under pressure.”

These guardians under the sea routinely submerse themselves into a pressurized environment to secure our ports and assets against threats that may exist below sea level. They are on constant lookout for explosive devices and play an important part in the safety and defense of the United States.

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