Canadian army divers explore waters of Albert Head

Swimming into the deep, dark depths of the ocean is when Cpl. Oliver Castonguay feels the most calm.

Swimming into the deep, dark depths of the ocean is when Cpl. Oliver Castonguay feels the most calm.

Armed in his wet suit and scuba gear, the combat engineer from Quebec, gently dives off a wooden dock into the cool waters of Albert Head in Metchosin.

Floating next to his partner, 1st-Lt. Josh Voorhees, a New Jersey-native, they quickly inspect each others’ equipment to ensure it’s working properly, before they give their supervisor the thumbs up and dive beneath the surface.

Once underwater, Castonguay can see several feet in front of him. His anxiety floats away, as a sense of calm washes over him. He focuses on the task at hand and swims towards his target.

“Diving is a whole different world. I enjoy that. It’s so scientific. Everything you want to do, you have to think about it,” said Castonguay, who has been a combat engineer diver for the past year-and-a-half. “It’s calm, there’s no noise, there is no one behind you to watch you work.”

Their current task is to locate a metal cube, which has a hole it in, and repair it so it can be brought to the surface.

The task is part of Exercise Roguish Buoy, a weeks-long exercise, where roughly 100 divers from the Canadian army, as well as international NATO partners, participate in a series of activities to test their skills as combat engineer divers. Army divers are responsible for underwater construction and infrastructure repairs to jettys or ships and are often deployed during war-time and humanitarian assistance efforts, in the event of a hurricane, tsunami or earthquake in which vital city infrastructure, such as bridges, are damaged.

The exercise also trains divers to clear underwater debris using underwater jackhammers, underwater saws or C4 explosives to break up large pieces of concrete and bring them to the surface with the help of lift bags. Divers are also responsible for executing underwater search and recovery.

However, working underwater is not an easy task. For example, if divers are working to repair a puncture in a boat that has sunk, they must deal with water pressure trying flowing into the empty vessel and air pressure trying to escape the vessel at the same time.

“It’s an interesting engineering challenge, it has a lot to do with the physics of pressure,” said Capt. Harry Morrison, exercise coordinator.

“It’s really a fantastic opportunity for cross pollination of techniques. It’s a great opportunity for Canadians and our NATO allies to ensure we have standardized techniques and we can conduct operations together.”

Sgt. 1st-class Chaise Turner has been a combat engineer diver with the U.S. army for the past 12 years and participated in the exercise. He noted working alongside NATO allies allows divers to learn how to complete tasks more efficiently.

“We’re all designed to be able to do the same type of task. Sometimes you’ll see another country is doing something more efficiently than you are. You share that training with each other,” Turner said, adding when working underwater, they have to make quick decisions to maximize their time below the surface.

“If you’re working on a task on the surface, you have a certain leverage you can apply versus, underwater, you don’t have any of that leverage so you have to use the mechanical advantage of the tool.”

Most recently, Canadian army divers were deployed during clean up and relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.

Exercise Roguish Buoy, which runs until Feb. 26, is hosted by the Canadian Forces School of Military Engineering, with support from clearance navy divers from Fleet Diving Unit Pacific based out of CFB Esquimalt. In previous years, the exercise was held in Kingston, Ontario, and Comox.