Reprinted with Permission
Sentinel-Tribune
Bowling Green, Ohio

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

 

DEEP SEA divers from the Navy Reserve's Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit are shown training at the Portage Quarry Recreation Club over the weekend.

Photo by Aaron Carpenter/Sentinel-Tribune

County's seashore

Navy divers use Portage Quarry for deep sea training

By CHRIS MILLER
Sentinel Staff Writer

You wouldn't think of Wood County as a spot to train deep sea divers.

But a group of Navy Reserve divers have found a prime spot to hone their underwater skills a deep water quarry nestled amid the corn and beans fields just south of Bowling Green.

For more than a decade members of Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit Two, Detachment 409, based in Cleveland, have traveled once a year to Portage Quarry Recreation Club south of Bowling Green for a weekend of dive training.

About two-dozen members of the unit, along with a few active duty Navy divers from Virginia, spent this past weekend submerged in this gaping, flooded hole, 70-feet deep in places, which they say provides an ideal training environment.

"This is a beautiful quarry," said the unit's commander, CDR James Rodes Jr., who works full-time as a Cleveland police detective when he's not diving for the Navy.

He said the unit could train off the shore of Lake Erie near Cleveland. But that would require a 10 to 12 mile jaunt off the coast to find depths with good visibility.

"Here, we're getting deeper dives in a better controlled environment," he explained.

BMCS Jim Mariano, a stocky 38-year-old active duty "Master Diver" who traveled from the east coast of Virginia to observe and critique the weekend training, called the local quarry a "perfect" diving environment.

"You've got good depth and good visibility here," Mariano said as two more yellow-helmeted divers got ready to submerge. "It's a perfect training location."

Quarry owner Jeff Rice, a military veteran himself whose son is currently serving in the Army in Iraq, is happy to help the reservists.

"Through the years we've got to the point where we know these guys individually," Rice said. "They're a great group and we support them, as we do all our military branches."

Although Rodes and the other divers in his unit are "reservists," they're regularly called upon by the Navy for real-world missions.

"For only getting together one weekend a month, these guys do really well together," commented Mariano.

He said his active duty unit at the Naval base in Little Creek, Va., which oversees reserve units like Detachment. 409 and often works side-by-side with them, knows the reservists can be ready to go at a moment's notice. "They're really well-seasoned."

Some examples of real-world missions include salvage recovery dives following the Space Shuttle Columbia crash in February, when parts of the shuttle plunged into Toledo Bend Reservoir in East Texas.

Divers from this unit also helped raise parts of the U.S.S. Monitor, the Civil War ironclad ship found off the coast of North Carolina.

And they've handled more grisly jobs, like recovering debris and bodies from the Atlantic Ocean several years ago when TWA Flight 800 went down off the coast of New York.

The motivation and esprit of the diving unit tends to be at a higher level than your typical Naval Reserve unit, according to Rodes.

"I've got guys driving eight hours (to weekend training) every month just because they want to stay a Navy diver," he said.

His unit includes divers from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

The esprit shows itself in other ways. A number of the divers sported tattoos on their left calf, a large picture of a Mark V diving helmet, the old heavy brass and copper deep sea helmets most civilians would recognize from movies like "Men of Honor."

But deep sea diving isn't just a man's underwater world. New lighter equipment, like the yellow fiberglass helmets they now wear, means that Navy diving is open to women as well as men.

LTJG Sara Olsen, a 25-year- old active duty diver and Mariano's operations officer, said the Navy needs motivated and physically fit women and
men to put on the helmet and take the plunge.

"We're always looking for someone who's willing to work," Olsen said.

Physical requirements alone are more stringent than the regular Navy. Divers must be able to withstand long periods of time submerged at depths of 60 feet or more. You also must be able to perform various underwater tasks, like welding and moving heavy equipment.

However, the biggest requirement seems to be a love of diving and using the most state-of-the-art equipment.

"We get paid to dive all over the world," said Rodes. "It's great."

Mariano agreed. "There's nothing like going to work and loving what you do."

 
 

 


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