- There is a very small army community that takes the combat diver qualification course.
- The participants, mostly green berets, are tested on their diving skills and their ability to perform under pressure.
- This is arguably the toughest course in the army and is likely to be more in demand in an age of great power competition.
When someone talks about frogmen or combat divers, most people immediately imagine the Navy SEALs, the dedicated maritime component of the US special operations community.
But SEALs aren’t the only ones doing combat diving. There is a very small army community, mostly made up of special operators, who take the combat diver qualification course to become a combat diver.
This is arguably the toughest course in the military, and as the focus shifts from ground wars in the Middle East to competition around the world, the skills it teaches are likely to be more requested.
Here there are monsters
Established in the 1960s, the Combat Diver Qualification Course is held in Key West, Florida.
An important feature of the course is its adaptability to current or future threats, and it has seen many variations. It usually lasts between four and six weeks. Only a privileged few attend.
“The majority of students who attend CDQC are special operators from Green Berets, special mission units” – such as Delta Force or SEAL Team 6 – “Rangers, and sometimes soldiers from infantry and reconnaissance units. In addition to active duty members, ROTC cadets from Universities of America and West Point cadets can also attend,” a retired Green Beret who was a course instructor told Insider.
The course is divided into two phases.
During the first phase, instructors focus on physical fitness, familiarization with the equipment and teamwork. Then the students are paired up in groups of two and become “dive buddies”.
The first phase ends with the dreaded pool stress events. Instructors test students’ composure, skill and ability to follow procedures that could potentially save their life or that of their buddy down the line.
Students must pass standard tests: the 50-meter underwater swim, the retrieval of a 20-pound object from the bottom of the pool and the two-minute water walk.
Students must also excel academically.
“University courses covering topics such as diving physics, dangerous marine life, diving physiology, diving injuries and decompression are taught and tested. Students learn the use of diving equipment open circuit underwater, which is used during search dives, ship hull searches and deep open water diving,” the retired special forces operator said.
Students also learn the most important decompression procedures. Improper decompression protocol can cause paralysis and even death as dissolving gases form bubbles inside body tissues, also known as “divers sickness”.
The second phase covers the tactical aspects of combat diving. In particular, it focuses on the Mark 25 Draeger Oxygen Rebreather, a closed-circuit underwater breathing apparatus that emits no bubbles, allowing special operators to swim undetected.
Students also complete several scuba dives to hone their navigation skills and work with small boats and aircraft, such as helicopters, in various insertion and extraction methods throughout the course.
The course concludes with a full mission profile which includes an air insertion and a closed circuit dive.
The hardest school in the army
Members of the Army Special Operations community generally agree that the Combat Diver Qualification course is the most difficult course.
All course candidates must go through a pre-course screening, the Maritime Assessment Course, to even qualify for the Combat Diver Rating Course. Many special operators who take the course either fail or drop out, and the majority of them have already been assigned to a special operations unit.
Course difficulty is measured in three different ways, “the main one being adaptability in an aquatic environment in stressful situations – this is the one aspect that students cannot fully prepare for until they are in the course”, the retired Green Beret. and the former instructor told Insider, speaking anonymously to avoid jeopardizing ongoing work with their former unit.
“Physical fitness is assessed and emphasized throughout the course, making it one of the toughest courses in the military. Third, students’ academic abilities are monitored and tested throughout the course,” said added the retired Green Beret.
Apart from the toughness level, the combat diver qualification course is also dangerous. The course has strict safety precautions, but fatalities have occurred. Two special forces operators died while attending school in late 2021.
Those who graduate earn the coveted combat diver badge and join their units. In the case of the Green Berets, who make up most of the students, they join a combat dive team that is part of their special forces group.
A female cadet recently made history by becoming the first female soldier to complete the course and become a combat diver. A woman going through an Air Force Special Ops pipeline also graduated from the Army.
The Army combat diver community has often been overlooked and underutilized over the past two decades, as there was little need for combat divers in the wars in the Middle East.
As great power competition with neighboring nations of China and Russia intensifies, combat divers are likely to be in greater demand to apply their capabilities in waters across Europe, Asia and around the world. entire.
Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a veteran of the Hellenic Army (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ) and a graduate of Johns Hopkins University.