By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Mark Andrew Hays
Underwater Construction Team ONE (UCT-1), part of Navy Expeditionary Combat Force Europe-Africa/Task Force (CTF) 68, is breaking the ice with engineering forces from Norway and the Netherlands, while conducting diving operations at a frozen lake in Skjold, Norway during Exercise Cold Response (ECR) 2020, which will run through mid-March
ECR 2020 is a multi-national exercise held in Norway, aimed at retaining and enhancing warfighting skills in a challenging arctic environment.
“UCT-1 is designed for missions in tropical and cold environments. However, this is a unique experience in the arctic that should be exercised often,” said Chief Construction Mechanic Brandon Burrow, assistant officer in charge, UCT-1. “We are here in Norway exercising our required operational capabilities by running underwater hydraulic tools, utilizing weight-handling equipment, practicing emergency procedures and daily setup with our partner nations. Testing our issued gear and dive site setup is totally different in this environment than we are used to.”
With many evolutions taking place, such as dive site set-up, safety checks, emergency evacuation drills, and ice diving operations with 28 personnel in a joint operational environment, communication is key in building and strengthening partnerships, especially when descending into a frozen lake under 63 centimeters of ice.
Operating with the Dutch and Norwegians has allowed us to see what equipment and procedures we can improve on, specifically in these extreme environmental conditions,” said Construction Mechanic 1st Class Nicholas Reid, leading petty officer, UCT-1. “Their lightweight diving systems are half the weight of ours, which is more maneuverable around the dive site and under the ice.”
During the ice diving operations of ECR 2020, UCT-1 had the unique opportunity to strengthen relationships with divers from partner nations while sharing knowledge and experiences during operations. Sustaining alliances of NATO nations is critical to improving capabilities in diving, port damage repair, and hydrographic surveying in an extreme cold weather/ice environment.
“Working with the Americans has given us a lot of new inputs on how to dive in a safe way,” said Senior Sergeant Steinn Mar, diving instructor, Norwegian army. “I can see the advantages of having a bigger dive team compared to my team, which is five Army engineer divers. This allows the U.S. Navy team to man all positions and still have others preparing for the next dive, which allows them to start each ice dive operation faster. It’s great to see we have a lot of the same procedures, which has made it easy to work together during Cold Response.”
In an extreme cold weather environment, with temperatures as low as five degree, and snow accumulation over three feet, engineering forces from the U.S., Norway, and the Netherlands pushed through ice operations for eight days completing all mission requirements of ECR 2020.
“This was a very successful week of ice diving, and a great experience to work with our Norwegian and Dutch partners,” said Lt.j.g. Peter Schmillen, officer in charge, UCT-1. “It was a great learning experience seeing the different procedures and techniques for ice diving, and all forces involved can apply lessons learned to improve diving capabilities. UCT-1 Sailors successfully executed the mission, despite the challenging arctic conditions that affected both personnel and equipment.”
CTF 68 provides explosive ordnance disposal operations, naval construction, expeditionary security, and theater security efforts in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility.
U.S. 6th Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with Allied and interagency partners, in order to advance U.S. national interests, security, and stability in Europe and Africa.