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 Navy Diver 3rd Class Aiden Lockard, assigned to Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 2, prepares to leave the surface during ice dive training at a frozen lake on Camp Ripley in Little Falls, Minn. The training hosted by MDSU 2, is in its third iteration and has become more relevant, showcasing how Navy divers are assisting in building a more capable arctic naval force. MDSU 2, based out of Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek - Fort Story, is a combat ready expeditionary force capable of deploying worldwide in support of all diving and salvage operations. 

LITTLE FALLS, Minn.

Camp Ripley, the sprawling Army base in northern Minnesota, is impressive. With nearly 53,000 acres of training sites, the installation is normally buzzing with tanks, troops and jets, but not necessarily in February, when the temperatures rarely see double digits and regularly stay sub-zero.

For one unit, however, this Arctic environment is just right.

“We come up here to train hard,” said Chief Navy Diver Stephen Eide, Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 2 training and readiness leading chief petty officer.

Navy divers are a far cry from tanks, troops and jets, but the frozen lakes and harsh environment on the friendly confines of a military installation are ideal to prepare the normally deep-sea experts to operate for any future tasking in the Arctic.

The ice dive training, led by MDSU 2, is not in response to any specific threat, but rather an extension of the Department of the Navy’s Strategic Blueprint for the Arctic, and this training has become even more relevant showcasing how Navy divers are at the tip of the spear in building a more capable Arctic naval force.

“We say that we dive the world over but for the last 20 years our mission has been primarily in the Middle East and other warm water environments,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joshua Slack, MDSU2 training and readiness officer. “With the great power competition, that is no longer the case. We need to be ready to operate where we are not accustomed to.”

The frozen lakes on Camp Ripley provide a safe haven for training with access to berthing, training classrooms and normal every-day amenities in order to prepare for a more austere and less forgiving environment.

Although the training does occur on the safe confines of the base, it is not without challenges.

The ice is about 16-inches thick and water temperature hovers just above freezing at 34 degrees, which leads to equipment challenges that the divers have not seen in the last 20 years.

“With the extreme cold, there are significant equipment considerations that we need to make that we did not run into in our normal operating environment,” said Eide. “Chainsaws and sleds are not in our normal gear load out but this is the reality now and I’m confident that our divers can perform the mission in an Arctic environment when called upon.”

This was the first year that MDSU 2 incorporated additional expeditionary skills training in the Arctic environment. Above the ice, the divers trained in cold weather acclamation, demolition, M9 service pistol and M4 rifle familiarization, stoppage and malfunction remediation.

Under the ice, 27 divers braved the water for a combined total of 10 hours on the bottom of the frozen lakes.

This was also the first year that MDSU 2 incorporated a final evaluation problem (FEP) for one of the dive companies in an Arctic environment.

“We thought it was important for one of our dive companies to go through the full spectrum of operations in this environment to really hash out any potential issues and flex our ability to truly complete a task,” said Slack.

For the FEP mission, the dive company was called upon to retrieve sensitive items from under the snow and ice covered lake. They were given approximate coordinates where the items were suspected to be and went on their mission.

“The value of conducting a FEP in this environment cannot be overstated,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Beau Lontine, MDSU2 company 2-2 officer-in-charge. “We were presented with real-world scenarios and given the opportunity to accomplish the task with equipment and personnel organic to the team.”

The real-world scenarios presented to the dive company forced them to think outside the box and take into consideration the constraints of operating in such an austere environment.

“This Arctic environment forces us to get uncomfortable and creative and function with the gear and the people we have, which is crucial to accomplishing the mission by ourselves this far from our normal resources,” said Lontine.

The successful completion of FEP certified the dive company for deployment and served as eye opening experience for any potential cold weather future tasking.

“This was the first time that MDSU 2 had done a FEP like this and it really showed us the significant logistical lift required to complete the mission under the ice,” said Lontine. “While we are training, we want to make sure we are advancing the force at every level possible and the lessons learned from this exercise will pay dividends in the end when we need to accomplish the mission in the real world.”

With all of the gear stowed and secured, the MDSU 2 team returned to Virginia Beach to track lessons learned and prepare for the next mission.

“I’m confident that when we get the call, our divers will be ready to deploy anywhere in the world, hot or cold, sandy or snowy, to complete any mission that is asked of us,” said Slack.

MDSU 2, headquartered out of Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia Beach, Va., is the Navy’s premier East Coast diving and salvage unit, capable of providing skilled, capable, and combat-ready deployable forces around the globe to support a range of operations.

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