WEST BETHESDA, Md. (NNS) -- Every other year, hundreds of college and high school students come from around the world to Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division (NSWCCD), to race human-powered submarines they designed and built themselves in the command's David Taylor Model Basin (DTMB).
Sailors assigned to the U.S. Navy's primary source of diving and hyperbaric operational guidance are on station in the basin during the 14th International Human-Powered Submarine Races (ISR), running June 25-30, 2017, ensuring the most important part of the race - safety - is maintained in this high-stakes environment.
"This event is inherently dangerous because of what can happen during the races," said Chief Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician Ralph Schmitz, special warfare diving leading chief petty officer for Navy Experimental Diving Unit (NEDU). "The students competing in this event are underwater in their craft during this race. If their primary air source (scuba) fails when you're in 20 feet of water, what do you do? For us, dealing with a situation like that is almost second nature. It's what we do."
NEDU, homeported in Panama City, Florida, is the Navy's leading center for diving research, development, and testing and evaluation, also providing physiological and engineering solutions for undersea operations. The command comprises more than 120 highly qualified and experienced active duty, civilian and contract personnel from all diving communities: Sea, Air, Land (SEAL); Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD); salvage; saturation; Seabee; engineering duty officer; and undersea medical officer. Previously existing relationships between Carderock and NEDU personnel made a working relationship easy to establish for this event, according to NEDU Commanding Officer Capt. (Sel) Jay Young.
"Our executive officer Lt. Cmdr. Junior Lorah participated in this event in prior years at another duty station, so he knew Charlotte George (Carderock head liaison for ISR) already. Fast forward to 2017, she called us with the event coming up and asked if we could help with the dive side, and we said, of course we want to support," Young said. "I've known Carderock Commanding Officer Capt. Mark Vandroff for 15 years, so I called him up offering to have NEDU run the show, and he said, 'Absolutely, I don't need to ask any more questions.' With NEDU and Carderock both under NAVSEA (Naval Sea Systems Command), this allows us to strengthen our relationships in the NAVSEA family, as well."
Schmitz and Lorah planned and prepared for ISR for months, regularly coordinating with Carderock liaisons to receive information about the area, facilities and event, and discussing their capabilities and what they could or could not do to support.
"The flow of information was really good. We were able to dial in and make sure we knew exactly what they expected, and now we're here to deliver," Schmitz said. "We've worked with the race directors and folks at Carderock before - the links and liaise was already developed. We have first-class divers we bring, EOD divers with a lot of experience and medical staff dedicated to underwater medicine. We have all the capabilities you need to support this event in one package and we're happy to be asked to contribute."
Once at the basin and in the water, the NEDU divers, with support from other active duty and reserve dive-qualified Sailors in the National Capital Region, took responsibility for the race course area of the DTMB, while the ISR staff and divers were responsible for the launching area.
"When they break the plane of the green lights at the start of the race course, from that moment until they either fail or successfully complete the run and are extracted, we have total control of the evolution," Schmitz said. "There's a lot that can go wrong working in this environment with the level of training and experience many of these students have.
"We've worked closely with the race coordinators, who have done this 13 times before, so we don't question their judgment; they're really good at what they do. We're very adaptive and we take direction well, so it's been very easy for us to get accustomed to the environment quickly and just get on board with the rest of the team making this event happen safely."
Young said NEDU takes a proactive approach to planning and safety and is well-suited to support ISR because of the diversity of commands NEDU works with like the Office of Naval Research and Naval Special Warfare, their breadth of experience operating in unconventional environments and the knowledge the unit has from testing all diving equipment for use in the Navy, as well as its ability to react quickly and decisively in case of a mishap.
"The diving we do at NEDU is some of the most complex diving that anybody does, we are always putting ourselves in the hairy edge of what divers can and can't do," Young said. "We go above and beyond pressing the envelope for higher efficiency diving, new equipment, better human performance to improve military diving throughout the world. It is our hope that we can keep this relationship and continue to proudly provide this support to ISR in 2019, 2021 and beyond."
Schmitz praised his team of divers working at ISR and said being a part of the event was a fun change of pace for him and something he's happy to work on.
"This is a special facility, so to have access to it and work to support these students who are entertaining themselves with this contest, but also participating as a military member in something that will benefit our civilian counterparts while contributing to research that will ultimately benefit the military - well, it's the kind of thing that's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Schmitz said. "We've met some very interesting people at this event, from astronauts to flag officers to congressmen, and I'm glad to give my Sailors that kind of visibility. It's a privilege and very humbling to be responsible for a vast portion of what NEDU is doing here to support."
For over 25 years, the Foundation for Underwater Research and Education (FURE) has sponsored ISR as the capstone science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) event for thousands of young men and women. According to FURE President Charles Behrle, a former commanding officer at Carderock, this biennial design competition for human-powered underwater vehicles, hosted by NSWCCD since 1995, provides valuable educational experiences to the best and brightest engineering and science students throughout the world.
Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, a part of Naval Sea Systems Command, leads the Navy in hull, mechanical and electrical engineering. Headquartered in West Bethesda, Maryland, Carderock Division employs approximately 2,000 scientists, engineers, technicians and support personnel and includes detachments in Norfolk, Virginia (Little Creek); Port Canaveral, Florida; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee; Bangor, Washington; Ketchikan, Alaska; and Bayview, Idaho.
For photos of the race, go to Carderock's Flickr page at https://www.flickr.com/photos/nswccarderock/albums/with/72157682622255494.
For more information on the International Human-Powered Submarine Races, visit www.internationalsubmarineraces.org.
Visit NEDU's website at http://www.navsea.navy.mil/Home/SUPSALV/NEDU/ or follow them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/NAVXDIVU/.
For more news from Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock, visit http://www.navsea.navy.mil/Home/Warfare-Centers/NSWC-Carderock/