Who is the best sub? Inside the Army Combat Diver Competition
A line of orange buoys snaked through the black waters of McKellars Pond in Fort Bragg. On the banks, spectators stood quietly as the markers advanced, one by one, between a series of floating checkpoints, each about 100 yards apart. Although those on land could only see the slow movement of the orange buoys, each marked the progress of a team of two special forces combat divers just below the surface, sailing as a team. Even the bubbles did not betray them.
Using only an underwater compass, the dive teams zigzagged between targets – one, two, three, four. The black water conditions meant divers might not be able to see their own hands, let alone a checkpoint a few feet away. As the event progressed, one team’s buoy drifted off target, toward shore.
“They’re going far,” said a timekeeper, just as the team collided with the shore on the other side of the pond.
A total of nine teams took turns navigating the star-shaped course, the first element of the final challenge of the 2022 Best Combat Diver Competition.
As the divers headed for the finish line, marked by a red and white dive flag, one team veered almost 40 meters off course. “I’ll get them,” said a timekeeper, before chasing after the strays. The following team missed by 10 yards, but the one following them lined up for the flag. The orange buoy steadily approached the shore until dark shapes were visible just below the surface. Their heads broke in the water, then their glasses.
The duo smiled and stood up. Hit. They waded the last few yards to the dive flag, dragging grass, branches and soaked cammies ashore. “I feel like I’m in a ghillie suit,” said one diver. They fell to the ground and unraveled.
“All good?” asked a dive master.
“All is well,” the divers replied, disposing of their rigs, specially designed rebreather systems which, unlike traditional scuba gear used by most civilians, recycle and cleanse fumes of a diver, releasing no bubbles that would leave a telltale trace on the surface above.
Once the dive master made sure the pair had no adverse medical effects from the dive, the team raced down a ravine in a waist-deep mud culvert for the final piece of the challenge: a shooting event at a booth across the street.
After all, a diving operation is just a way for special operators to get to work.
Dive, run and shoot
sergeant. 1st Class Rob and Master Sgt. Joe – who asked to be identified only by his first names – hosted the contest at Fort Bragg.
“Over the past 20 years, I think [dive] went by the wayside with the desert wars, and as a result, we’re sort of the redhead son-in-law of the bunch. said Rob. “Our goal with [the Best Combat Diver Competition] is to increase awareness in the maritime community and the diving community.
Organized by the 3rd Special Forces Group from Fort Bragg and presented by the Combat Divers Foundationa non-profit organization, the second annual contest ended on Thursday, June 16. Nine teams competed over two days, including elite divers from the Army’s 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th Special Forces Groups as well as a competitor from the Air Force’s 14th. Air Support Operations Squadron.
Two Green Berets from the 7th Special Forces Group won the title. Events included pool events, a 5 mile run in near 90 degree heat, a written test, boat maneuvers and the final sailing dive and shot scramble. At the pool, competitors faced obstacle courses that included rescuing a 300-pound dummy and assembling a Glock 19 underwater while wearing dark goggles.
Combat diver is not a job in the military, but a qualification that many special operators earn by undergoing extensive training that is widely considered to be some of the most grueling in the military. Divers learn to conduct maritime missions and gain undetected access to shore targets. Combat divers learn the basics of small boat infiltration and underwater navigation, often swimming in the same gear a soldier would normally carry on their back.
The competition at Fort Bragg tested the whole diver, testing strength and speed as well as technical know-how. sergeant. 1st Class Mike, who came up with the idea for a Best Combat Diver competition for Army divers, was impressed with this year’s events. “Last year there were more endurance events. This year we took part in a lot more technical events, which is great,” he said.
Who is the best?
Soldiers and event organizers hope the competition will expand to include other military branches with combat diving missions. The The Marines and Air Force both conduct independent dive qualification courses similar to those of the Army, while Navy SEALs undergo combat dive training as part of their initial qualification. Military-scale sniper competitions are held regularly – including one at Fort Bragg for special operations teams – and other contests like Best Ranger regularly draw participants from units around the world. But combat diving, though practiced in most special operations teams across four branches of the military, has no such central event.
So which branch really has the best combat divers? It’s a question, organizers say, that can only be answered with strong participation from all branches of the military.
“Last year we had six teams: five teams from the 3rd group, one team from the 7th group,” said Mike. “This year we have nine teams.” Representation grew to include teams from four of the five active duty Special Forces groups and a specialist from the Air Force Tactical Air Control Group, or TACP, who partnered with a diver from the ‘army.
Rob said even more competitors were initially expected to compete this week. Seventeen teams, including pairs from Marine Forces Special Operations Command and Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance, signed up, but last-minute injuries, deployments and other hurdles interfered.
Mike thinks planning and moving the competition earlier would create more buzz. “We’re crossing our fingers that we can hold it somewhere in the South,” he said. Logistically, a competition on a beach makes sense – and it wouldn’t hurt spectator participation. The three diving schools are in Florida: the army school in Key West; the Marines and the Air Force at Panama City Beach. And the 7th Group is headquartered at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
Joe Phanton, a retired 3rd Group soldier who now advises the Combat Diver Foundation, praised his former colleagues for the competition’s growth. “It’s important to note that the 3rd group started this and developed it until it is today,” Phanton said.
But he throws down the gauntlet. “What we would like to see is for it to become even bigger and more inclusive of the diving community from other branches, such as the Marines and Navy, Air Force, so that it really is a competition of best diver,” Phanton said. “I think it would be a really good friendly rivalry between the service branches.”
sergeant. 1st Class Tory A. and Captain Drew F. of the U.S. Army’s 7th Special Forces Group proved to be the best of the best, taking first place. Full names were not available due to all competitors serving in special operations on active duty. The full results of the Best Combat Diver competition were announced at an awards ceremony on Thursday:
Results by team, Competition for the best combat diver 2022:
- 7th group
- 3rd Group
- 7th group
- 3rd Group
- 3rd Group
- 7th group
- 5th Group
- 1st group
- 3rd Group/14th ASOS
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