TYNDALL AFB, FL – In a partnership with a local Naval outpost, the Air Force continues to train and strengthen the future of its special operators through a combat diving course that Airmen attend during their training.
Airmen attending the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center go through dive training with the goal of enabling the safe, timely and effective training of qualified candidates for combined operations in support of national military strategy and national security. Though they are not directly stationed with the 325th Fighter Wing, the dive school Airmen are supported through Tyndall Air Force Base administratively. Many of their personnel based issues are solved through Tyndall.
The schoolhouse, located in Naval Support Activity Panama City, Florida, was established to develop the ‘whole’ diver — mind, body and heart, with the skills and confidence to successfully complete missions and integrate with all combat forces to offset adversaries in the undersea domain. Airmen are able to learn in the same institution that trains some of the Navy’s best divers.
“This school is where Air Force Combat Dive School takes place,” said Beau Wagner, Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center combat dive instructor. “The pararescue and combat controller trainees will come here for about 30 days of training. Upon completion of this course, they will be recognized as Special Operations Command combat divers. This means they can be attached to any team in the U.S. military and assist in combat and austere diving missions. This training is integral to maintaining the combat controller and pararescue skill sets.”
The month that these Airmen are in the area is devoted to a rigorous set of training that includes pool diving as well as diving in the Gulf of Mexico. They learn equipment recovery and how to avoid hostiles compromising their dive gear while on missions. These classes lead to them becoming capable combat divers.
“Though the Air Force is not the leading branch in diving, the skills that our special operations Airmen have are often useful to other dive teams,” Wagner said. “Air Force divers are often called to work with Navy Seals, and we have to be able to keep up and know how to do what they do. We are often called upon to take part in body recovery operations, where we retrieve our fallen comrades to make sure they return home. Sometimes these bodies could unfortunately be at the bottom of a body of water and would require the diving experience we gain here.”
The center trains personnel from all branches of the military and teaches qualified candidates for courses such as U.S. Navy deep sea divers, Seabee underwater construction divers, joint service diving officers, explosive ordnance disposal officers, diving medical technicians, diving medical officers, U.S. Army Engineer divers, U.S. Marine Corps combatant divers, U.S. Coast Guard divers and U.S. Air Force pararescue operators and combat controllers.
“This is the job I chose, the career always stood out to me,” said Airman Xiaija Schuldis, Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center Air Force pararescue trainee. “I wanted to help people, and push myself mentally and physically. I grew up always being part of a team, and this job keeps that brotherhood mentality. My family and my team are a lot of my motivation. When you look around and everyone is aching from the training, you can’t quit because your brother right next to you won’t quit.”
The school houses 23 certified diver life support systems, which include six hyperbaric recompression chambers and two diving simulation facilities capable to 300 feet. The school also contains an aquatics training facility, which is the second largest pool in the U.S., a submarine lock-out trunk and two 133-foot diving tenders for open-ocean diving support.
The instructors for the school are both active duty and civilian. The Airmen who are going through the school are predominantly combat controllers, pararescue and combat rescue officer trainees.