Navy Diver Visit Helps the Gabonese Navy Assess its Future Dive Capability
Service members with the Gabonese Navy completed a three-day Dive Program Orientation and Demonstration led by two U.S. Navy divers from Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) in Libreville, September 25, 2009.
This military-to-military engagement, in support of U.S. Africa Command's (AFRICOM) Theater Security Cooperation strategy, provided Gabonese Navy leadership with an overview of the requirements and challenges of instituting their own organic dive program. It also provided potential Gabonese diver candidates with insights into the physical and academic demands of attending Navy diver training.
Rear Admiral Hervé Nambo, chief of staff of the Gabonese Navy, requested the U.S. Navy divers visit to help his staff assess the requirements for re-establishing a dive capability in the Gabonese Navy.
U.S. Navy Commander Sarah Dachos, security cooperation officer at the U.S. Embassy, explained, "The Gabonese Navy had a dive program in the 80's but the capability deteriorated over the subsequent decade. Rear Admiral Nambo, himself a scuba diver, wants to restore this capability. By leveraging diving assets already in the AFRICOM AOR (area of responsibility), we were able to support Rear Admiral Nambo's request."
The two divers, members of EOD Mobile Unit 3 Platoon 342, currently deployed to CJTF-HOA in Djibouti, spent three days working together with a dozen Gabonese sailors selected by their leadership as potential diver candidates in a mix of classroom and pool activities.
Lieutenant Andrew Powch, Platoon 342 officer in charge, said, "We started out with a history of diving and presentation of some of the fundamentals on techniques and equipment. We also went fairly deeply into the medical and physical aspects of diving, before moving to the pool for some hands-on work with some our basic equipment like masks and snorkels."
Once in the water, the Gabonese sailors practiced techniques demonstrated by their U.S. Navy counterparts, including the diver sidestroke and breaststroke, clearing masks underwater and using a snorkel and fins. The two divers also demonstrated the requirements of the Navy Diver Physical Test--consisting of push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, a 1.5-mile run and a 500-yard swim--in preparation for a practice test.
"I was very impressed by the engagement and enthusiasm of all the participants," said Chief Petty Officer Daniel Cash, the other Platoon 342 member on the visit. "They all worked hard in the pool to practice the techniques and really gave it their all when we did the practice PT test."
The most challenging event was the 500-yard swim, something most of the Gabonese sailors had never attempted before. Cash said, "Although only a few of the guys were able to complete the swim today, with the right training and preparation, most of them would be able to complete the U.S. Navy Dive school physical requirements. There's definitely some good future divers in this group."
Back on land, the group had little trouble with the other Physical Test events, with nearly everyone meeting the minimum requirements for push-ups, sit-ups and running.
The engagement visit concluded with a 30-minute presentation by Lieutenant Powch to Rear Admiral Nambo and senior members of his staff on the requirements for establishing and maintaining a navy dive program.
Nambo expressed his thanks for the team's visit and said his staff was now much better prepared to make decisions regarding the establishment of a dive program in the Gabonese Navy.
"We now have a much better appreciation for the commitment it will take to establish a dive program here," said Nambo. "However, this visit has also shown that we have personnel with the skills to be part of any such program."
For the participants from both navies, the visit provided an opportunity to exchange ideas and best practice, and develop mutual appreciation for the capabilities and professionalism of both services.
"I really enjoyed seeing and practicing the techniques we were shown," said Ensign Hugues Ombagha from the Gabonese Navy. "I think it really shows the demands of diver training, which I now am confident I'd be able to complete."
CDR Dachos concluded, "Military-to-military engagement events like this really help to build strong relationships with our partners in this region. This event in particular will help the Gabonese Navy prioritize its goals with respect to a dive program and in the long run contribute to enhancing their capability to improve maritime safety and security in the Gulf of Guinea."