Navy divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 2 in Little Creek, Va., along with Army, Navy Reserve and Coast Guard divers began a monumental training exercise off the coast of Fort Lauderdale on June 3.
During the monthlong â€œDiveExEast 07,â€ military and Coast Guard divers will determine the most effective method for recovering an estimated 600,000 to 700,000 used tires off the ocean floor.
Itâ€™s estimated that nearly 2 million tires were placed into the ocean in the 1970â€™s by private organizations hoping to create an artificial reef. Over the years, the successful formation of an artificial reef did not occur; the tires loosened and moved, damaging the nearby natural coral reefs. The tires cover more than 34 acres on the seafloor in 60 to 70 feet of water about 1.3 miles off the coast of Fort Lauderdale beach.
Until recently, Broward County officials couldnâ€™t envision an economically feasible method for cleaning up this ecological disaster, until they learned of the Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) program, sponsored by the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs.
The IRT program looks for Civil-Military projects that improve military readiness and address the needs of the American public: in this particular case the recovery of hundreds of thousands of tires and the restoration of the Osborn Coral Reef.
One of the primary considerations for DOD participation in this project is whether or not the military can accomplish mandatory training requirements from their respective Mission Essential Task Lists (METL).
Army landing craft utility (LCU) crew members and military divers from four different commands determined this project easily met those requirements.
"This project allows these military divers and Army LCU crew members' real-world training in 'wartime' salvage ops. And perhaps, more importantly, it exercises interoperability with federal, state and county agencies and these skill sets could have the most significance in the aftermath of a Katrina-type natural disaster," said CWO Donovan Motley, officer in charge of MDSU 2 Det. 6.
As an expeditionary unit, MDSU 2 Det. 6 began completing required training before they left their command in Little Creek, Va.
â€œA couple of our training requirements are rapid response load-outs and convoy ops, so just by packing up and driving down here was something weâ€™d have to exercise anyway,â€ said Motley. â€œThe best part is we get to accomplish this training while contributing something positive to a local American community.â€
This is true of all the services involved, but according to Army 1st Lt. Russell Destremps, Platoon Leader 86th Engineering Dive Team, Fort Eustis, Va., fulfilling requisite dive and salvage capabilities is just icing on the cake compared to what each of the divers will take home with them.
â€œThe response weâ€™ve received from the local community has been outstanding, but whatâ€™s really great for all of us is the sense of accomplishment. Diving after a piece of gear you just kicked off a barge may meet your training requirements, but it doesnâ€™t give you the same sense of satisfaction as diving after something thatâ€™s damaging these coral reefs
,â€ said Destremps.
Navy Diver 2nd Class (DSW) Ryan Travis, MDSU 2, agreed.
"I met a life-long (Fort Lauderdale) local the other day. He said he's seen tires washing ashore on the beach for almost 30 years. He and everyone I've spoken with are very happy we're here cleaning this up," said Travis. "You can't help but get really motivated with that type of feedback from the local community."
Navy Reserve diver
and New York police officer, Navy Diver 2nd Class Michael Wilkins said the importance of this exercise canâ€™t be over emphasized.
â€œAs a diver for the police department Iâ€™ve worked with a lot of non-military divers and they all have their own way of doing things. The fact that Navy, Army and Coast Guard divers can come together and work effectively in integrated teams after just a day really says something about our initial training,â€ said Wilkins. â€œBut more importantly, I know we can all come together and work effectively as a team during a disaster situation.â€
While all the divers hope to pull up as many tires as possible during their month in Florida, the real objective of the DiveExEast 07 is to determine the most effective method of tire recovery.
Even though Navy is the nominal project lead for the military side of this exercise, Motley said he'll be soliciting input from all the agencies for his after action report.
"During this exercise I'm totally focused on dive-ops, production and diver safety. So I won't see every thing. I really need the input of every agency involved in order to make sure that if Navy divers can come back next year, they have as complete a road map as possible. I want them to be able to recover the maximum number of tires possible from day one," said Motley.
Barring operational commitments, military divers hope to use this project as a training platform for the next several years, cycling through as many divers as possible.
MDSU 2 is part of Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC), a global force provider of adaptive force packages of expeditionary capabilities to joint warfighting commanders. NECC serves as a single functional command to centrally manage the current and future readiness, resources, manning, training, and equipping of the Navy Expeditionary Force.