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Posted 11/16/2012

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USACE Forward Response Dive Team

Four countries, three continents, eight cities and towns and two islands; this hectic schedule is that of the newly formed USACE Forward Response Dive and Survey Team during its 2012 inaugural season.

In all, by the end of this year, the team and its members will have traveled more than 50,000 miles during 80 operational day's flawlessly executing six separate underwater and two survey missions,
"Yeah, you can say we've been just a little bit busy," mused FRDST Program Manager Rick Benoit. "However, it's been a labor of love getting the program off the ground to the point where we are working underwater wherever and whenever we are needed."

Conceived shortly after arriving in Portland District six years ago from the US Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May, NJ, it was not until January of 2012 that the team Benoit envisioned first saw action. That mission was jointly facilitated utilizing USACE divers from Portland and San Francisco as well as from the Navy Dive Locker in Bangor, WA, was ironically, an emergency operation to assist the US Coast Guard at Station Coo Bay.

Since then, the team, with members from throughout USACE and led by the Portland District's Office of Dive and ROV Operations and Safety, has safely accomplished missions in Japan, South Korea and Italy. The most complex of these missions was a combined bottom SONAR survey, surface and below-water inspection at Naha Military Port, Okinawa Japan which was facilitated as Typhoon Sanba threatened the Island.

"This was an exceptional opportunity for us and the dive team," said Dunlap, SPN's dive team lead and assistant operations chief. "It not often we get to accomplish this type of complex and challenging mission, especially during a Typhoon."

In all, divers, who accumulated more than 18 hours of dive time during 25 dives, and surveyors inspected more than two miles sea bottom, seawall, pier and docking facilities at Naha.

"This was the first time we employed a bottom SONAR survey team," said Benoit. "However, it adds greatly to the Naha mission's value for USAG Camp Zama, as well as tenant commands, the 835th Transportation Battalion and Navy's Military Sealift Command, as they hope to use the information generated by our surveyors and divers to facilitate major repairs and harbor dredging."

Leading the week-long survey effort were Portland District specialists Allen Stewart and Lee Loomis; the four-week dive mission was executed by Benoit, Dunlap and Andrew Rapp of San Francisco District, Steve England of Philadelphia, Adam Hamm of Buffalo and Army Special Forces SFC Amuary "Marko" Garcia of Torii Station.

According to Benoit, two major developments allowed the team to materialize as it has; most importantly the hiring of Deputy District Dive Coordinator Todd Manny and an agreed collaboration with the USACE Engineering Research and Development Center (ERDC) to serve as its dive safety office.

"Without a doubt, bringing Todd into the Dive Office was what allowed me to move forward with this program," said Benoit. "He truly was the final piece to our dive team puzzle."

Manny, a retired Navy Senior Chief brings to the Portland District 22 years of military experience as a First Class and saturation diver as well as operational expertise with remotely operated vehicles; underwater robots and cameras known as ROV's.

"This has been an exciting time for the Dive Office and the Dive Program," said Manny who joined the Portland District in 2009. "We have an exceptional dive program made up of very dedicated people. Together we've been able to safely and efficiently accomplish a lot of good work for the benefit of USACE as well as other military and federal agencies."

During 12 days in October, Manny and Benoit led a team of seven to Busan, South Korea where a bottom SONAR survey as well as a surface and below-water inspection to check the structural integrity of Pier 8 was performed.

This inspection was truly an international, multi-agency effort as the bottom survey was performed by Stewart and Loomis of NWP, divers Shanon Chader and Ed Gawarecki hailed from Buffalo District and diver Kyle Tanner traveled from Nashville. Moreover, the dive team was escorted daily by a boat crew of four South Korean soldiers while the US Navy's Military Sealift Command and Army's 837th Transportation Battalion provided logistical.

The South Korea inspection, as are the US, Japan and Italy missions, are part of the Installation Management Command's (IMCOM) - Army Transportation Infrastructure Inspection Program (ATIIP) which is managed by Kevin Haskins of ERDC. In all, there are 15 Army installations that have waterfront facilities requiring to be inspected at least once every four years.

"In working with Rick and his team, I have been amazed by their persistence to get the job done,' said Haskins who is stationed at ERDC's Hanover, NH facility. "All inspections have been completed on time and well under budget. In the first OCONUS inspection alone Rick and his team saved my program one third the estimated cost. While each OCONUS effort has many unknowns, not only has Rick realistically anticipated these in the planning phase; he has done an outstanding job to mitigate new issues quickly and effectively."

Those unknowns became very apparent during the team's first mission to ordinance storage facilities at Akizuki, Hiro and Kure, Japan when two members were unable to deploy at the last minute. However, with a contingency plan in place, Benoit and his team of Dan Meyers from Honolulu District, Charlie Bryan of Nashville and Gawarecki successfully and safely completed their 24-day, 15-dive mission.

A contingency plan would again be needed in November as Benoit, who was leading a team to inspect a pier at Camp Darby in Livorno, Italy was literally diverted en-route and assigned to assist the USACE and FEMA recovery effort required in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

So with Blackberry in hand, Benoit called Meyers, who was on his way to the airport, with the news he was now team lead as well as dive supervisor, John Winkleman of New England District and Hamm were diving while ERDC Bridge Inspector and Dive Safety Specialist was now a dive tender.

"Go figure, a funny thing happened on my way to Italy, I ended up in Trenton, NJ," said Benoit, a member of HQUSACE Debris SME Cadre. "However, it all worked out for the best -- the team did great and I was very proud to be a part of The Corps recovery team and its effort. I guess, I'll just have to wait for my chance to meet the Pope -- maybe I'll see Snookie while in New Jersey!"

dive team USACE Forward Response Dive and Survey Team