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ROK, U.S. Sailors: respond to real-world scenario.

Forward-Developed Naval Forces (FDNF) ships, primarily based in Yokosuka and Sasebo, Japan, consistently participate in joint-training exercises with the Republic of Korea (ROK). As operational schedules are put out for the year, FDNF Sailors can count on participating in the annual iteration of Key Resolve/Foal Eagle, or Ulchi Freedom Guardian.


On March 26, on the heels of Foal Eagle 2010's conclusion, training scenarios focused on sharpening the skills of U.S. and ROK personnel working together became an essential tool to respond to a real-world scenario.

A ROK ship, ROKS Cheonan (PCC 772), sank approximately one nautical mile off the south-west coast of Baengnyeong Island, Korea, in the Yellow Sea. Of the 104-man crew, 58 were rescued with 46 unaccounted for.

FDNF ships USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54), USS Lassen (DDG 82) and USS Shiloh (CG 67) were the first U.S. ships to respond to the scene. Lassen provided air support assistance; Curtis Wilbur provided command and control under the direction of the embarked Destroyer Squadron 15 Commodore Capt. Mark Montgomery.

"From day one, the U.S. Navy rapidly surged forces and tailored them accordingly to support the ROK Navy. In particular, the capabilities of Salvor, MDSU and the salvage subject matter experts were very helpful to the operations," said Gumataotao. "The teamwork shown during this arduous task is indicative of the hard work we have done in the past and shows that our commitment to the alliance is as strong as ever."


Divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1, embarked aboard USNS Salvor(T-ARS 52), arrived March 29 and to reinforce ROK recovery efforts aboard ROKS Gwangyang (ATS 28). They received thanks for their efforts from visiting ROK President Lee Myung-bak.

"It was something completely unexpected, to meet the president," said Navy Diver 1st Class (DSW/SW) Christopher Hegg. "We didn't even know he was aboard when we came by, but to shake his hand and hear his appreciation for our just being here was an honor."

MDSU 1 divers assisted their ROK counterparts through several workups and prepared the Salvor's hyperbaric chamber to pressurize the ROK divers.

"We're here to offer all the help we can. We're all ready to step in anytime and dive or assist hands-on in any way," said ND3 Andrew Kornelsen, a native of Madison, Wis. "I've been training for something like this for more than two years."

On April 2, Combined Task Force 76 personnel embarked aboard the Sasebo, Japan-based USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) and personnel from Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 5, Platoon 501, arrived at the salvage and recovery site. EODMU 5 personnel transited from Harpers Ferry to Salvor in a landing craft utility (LCU) and prepared to assist ensuring safe diving operations.


"The thing we were most concerned about for our divers was their safety," said NDCS Ted Walker, MDSU 1's master diver. "We're not going to put a diver in the water near some ordnance the Cheonan was carrying without making sure it's not going to pose a threat."

As an afloat staging base. Harpers Ferry provided a more flexible platform to assist with the changing needs of the recovery mission. In addition to two MH-60 helicopters for air support and the LCU, the ship had the ability to provide direct salvage assistance with a 30-ton crane.

Two days later, a barge with a crane was towed to the site. Divers commenced a schedule of riding in a rigid hull inflatable boat to the site and stood by to provide assistance to the ROK scuba divers.

Battling cold temperatures, divers started work at the stern end of the sunken ship. The position of the stern was determined through numerous sonar side scans, a process involving personnel taking pictures using a hand-held sonar camera.

ND1(DSW) Quentin Felderman, assistant lead petty officer for MDSU 1, explained the challenging nature of the dives.

"We found out the current is rougher than we expected, and we're learning to work with the EOD guys. But we've been preparing for this for a while now, and we're working well together."

On April 9, five ROK divers from the Sea Salvage and Rescue Unit (SSU) came aboard Salvor to perform joint diving operations. Felderman explained the benefits of working face-to-face with their counterparts.

"We get to learn about how they do things, and there's a lot both sides can learn. Their techniques are different from ours. They do scuba dives almost exclusively, and we do surface-supply dives," said Felderman.


ROK Chief Jong Suk Kang, an SSU diver, expressed his appreciation for the ability to work with MDSU 1.

"I have done many dives, but I have worked with the U.S. divers only once before. I am glad to have them to help with our diving," said Kang.

The ROK SSU had been steadily conducting scuba dives in the recovery efforts. The surface supply method of diving, which feeds air from a compressor aboard a ship through a regulator on a dive station and to the divers through hoses, allows for greater versatility, explained Navy Diver 3rd Class James Clark, a native of Sercy, Ark.

"We don't really do scuba dives for this type of current and this depth," said Clark. "When it comes to something like a salvage operation, a diver's going to spend more time getting to the target and getting back safely than actually working there."

For more than three weeks, divers carried out an intense series of surface-supply dives, which required time in Salvor's hyperbaric diving operations chamber to fully recover, explained ND2 Hunter Reed, a native of Fayetteville, Ark.

"We're doing a surface decompression/oxygen dive. Once we finish the dive, we're going up and finishing our decompression in the chamber. This dive is deeper than what we've been doing, and there's going to be more gas in your body, which means more decompression is required," explained Reed. "The depth of the dives varied between 70 to 140 feet."

After days of diving operations, the upper structure of the Cheonan was raised to the surface. The following days were a series of precise operations to successfully recover the wreck. On a foggy April 15, after maneuvering a civilian barge to the site, the Cheonan's stern section was winched from the seabed. The bow section, recovered April 24 in identical fashion, concluded the salvage operations.

The ROK navy hired contractors to raise the stern and bow of the ship. Both parts of the ship were taken to Pyeongtaek, Cheonan's home port about 60 km. southwest of Seoul.

"It was very rewarding to work with our ROK navy counterparts toward a common goal," said Cmdr. John Moulton, commanding officer of MDSU 1.

Story courtesy of Commander, Naval Forces Korea.

Editor's Note:

While U.S. divers did not work directly on raising the bow and stern, they worked closely with their ROK counterparts for five weeks and provide technical advice and support as requested.

By May 1, the United States concluded the maritime support of the ROK salvage operation. At the time of writing, the cause of the sinking is still under investigation.
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Title Annotation:Republic of Korea and the United States joint military training exercises
Publication:All Hands
Geographic Code:9SOUT
Date:Jun 1, 2010
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