Six Royal Naval Reservists plunged into the waters of the diving training lake at the Navy’s Horsea Island training site, swimming across the lake, completing a timed set of circuits and leaping several times from the highest platform (over 30 feet) into the water, clutching their fins to their chests.
The reservists were conducting pre-joining aptitude and acquaint tests on Saturday morning.
Their goal is to join the Royal Naval Reserve Diving Branch, a specialist cadre of the Maritime Reserves that supports the Fleet Diving Squadron of the Royal Navy.
The six reservists joined a diving training weekend alongside qualified Naval Reservist divers drawn from RNR units across the country from as far away as HMS Scotia in Rosyth and HMS Vivid in Plymouth.
Commander of the Maritime Reserves, Commodore Andrew Jameson and Command Warrant Officer for the Maritime Reserves, WO Annette Penfold visited the Horsea Island site to observe activity and meet the divers.
They received a presentation on the RNR Diving Branch from Lt Nick Foster, with Branch Manager Lt Cdr John Herriman answering detailed training and policy questions.
The Commodore was briefed on the Diving Branch’s role to deliver a Homeland Defence underwater search capability in the UK, providing underwater force protection and supporting harbour searches in strategic UK ports.
The Diving Branch also generates reservist diving teams to support the UK’s Explosive Ordnance Reconnaissance operations, backfilling the Fleet Diving Squadron’s teams when personnel are deployed overseas.
More recently, the RNR Diving branch has been tasked to generate manpower to support the NATO Submarine Rescue System.
The two Senior HQ Officers spent the morning observing the course and joined the would-be divers afterwards for lunch, tucking into bag meals inside a cosy heated cabin to escape the lakeside chill.
They learned more about the ambitions of the reservists and the challenges they face juggling civilian careers with the high levels of commitment required to qualify for the Diving branch.
Amongst the six applicants is James Parker, a 34-year-old carpenter from Redditch, near Birmingham. James, a keen scuba diver, already holds a PADI qualification and the mandatory 1000 minutes dived underwater.
Currently serving as an infantryman in the Army Reserve’s Mercian Regiment, he explained:
“Location changes and the rebadging of Army Reserve units in Birmingham have led to me considering changing my cap badge again – I’ve served with the RMR before and knowing a few of the lads at the RNR Unit HMS Forward which is conveniently nearby, I am looking at switching across to the RNR.
“I definitely want to do something with a bit more ‘grunt’ – something requiring me to be physically active.
“This is the sort of challenge I need.”
Several of the more experienced divers acted as mentors at the weekend, supervising the new applicants through the demanding fitness and aptitude tests, providing presentations and describing their experiences and various tasks undertaken.
The qualified RNR divers attending the training weekend also need to maintain their own skills and undertake specific courses to continue their professional development.
Training undertaken includes learning how to operate the recompression chambers, advanced diving First Aid courses, driving inflatable boats, transporting hazardous goods and the maintenance of diving equipment.
On average a new candidate can expect to achieve full qualification as an RNR Diver after two to three years.
Lt Foster explained:
“The level of scrutiny from the Defence Diving School is particularly high, we must conform to all standards required of military diving because safety is paramount, both for our personnel and for operational efficiency.
“We are proud to say some of our divers have been able to qualify on the bomb disposal course alongside the regulars and in recent cases have come top of the course.”
AB Tony Cassidy from HMS Eaglet can vouch for the level of integration he saw between Reservist and regular RN divers during his three-month mobilisation during the 2012 Olympics.
Tony, an offshore steward working on the North Sea oil rigs voluntarily mobilised to Operation Olympics, providing military support to London 2012.
He worked alongside a group of RN divers inspecting the Port of London and protecting underwater security in the River Thames and adjacent Olympic arenas while also paying particular attention to the force protection safety zones around the warships in the capital, providing accommodation to the troops providing security at the Olympics.
The latest Naval task to be opened up to RNR divers will provide direct support to the NATO Submarine Rescue System (NSRS). The RNR aims to train up to 36 reservists over the next five years to meet the operational requirement.
A pool of 12 NSRS trained divers will then be at 24 hours standby notice to move to deploy to assist with the recovery and rescue of personnel from a submarine in distressed circumstances.
The first reservist to undertake the two-week additional NSRS qualification is former submariner, now RNR diver, Chief Petty Officer Chris Dello.
Chris (35) from Poole, works as an engineer surveyor for Independent Safety Evaluation (ISE) but balances his civilian career with a high readiness commitment to support NATO’s submarine rescue system.
Joining the Naval Reserve three years ago at HMS King Alfred after 12 years in the RN, one of his responsibilities would be to operate the Transfer Under Pressure (TUP) element of the rescue phase, bringing submariners who have been exposed to a drop in pressure underwater back to the surface which would potentially take up to a few days in the pressurised system depending on the depth and circumstances of the incident.
AB Grant Thornes (24) is one of the young divers undergoing continuation training.
Joining the Reserves in the Leeds-based Ceres unit nearly five years ago he is originally from Bradford but moved to Southsea to undertake a two-year paramedic course at Portsmouth University.
Grant has already completed a number of the additional branch qualifications required and has taken part in the physically demanding Field Gun Competition, representing the Royal Navy Reserves over the past four years as both the sprint and pin number on the team.
“I’ve really enjoyed the team bonding in the Diving Branch and one of the real bonuses is accessing all the free physical fitness training RN sporting facilities available to the RNR.”
AB Natasha Senn (27) from HMS King Alfred is currently the only female diver in the RNR and recently became the first female reservist to qualify on her Explosive Ordnance course.
A lab scientist at DSTL in her day job, Natasha also has a young family and manages to juggle all her responsibilities to pursue her passion for a fit and active lifestyle.
As the weekend drew to a close Lt Cdr John Herriman said:
“This weekend was a great opportunity to show CMR what the Diving Branch is about and how well we are integrated into the Royal Navy.
“We were also able to show him how stringent our selection and training procedures are which is critically important for our Branch because of the safety considerations with diving and bomb disposal.
“It also means that we can operate with confidence alongside our Regular Royal Navy Diver colleagues.”
The Diving Branch is open to anyone, male or female, who has previous military service and holds a Royal Navy or Army diving qualification.
Candidates should be UK citizens with at least five years residency and be between the ages of 17-40 although ex-military candidates may join beyond the age of 40.
It is also open to those who have no military diving background but who possess a recognised civilian diving qualification. This can be either commercial (HSE) or recreational (BSAC/PADI.)
The minimum requirement is for 1000 minutes spent under water, these must be recorded in a diving log book. The branch recruits both commissioned officers and ratings.
Source: Subsea World News