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Army Boat Supports Dive Teams Trying to Raise Russian Sub

By Spc. Morrene E. Randell, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

PROVIDENCE, R.I., Sept. 4, 2007 – A light breeze rippled over the dark water of Providence Harbor as two divers sank below the water’s surface, leaving behind a long trail of air hoses and the sound of their breathing through the radio.

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Navy diver Petty Officer 2nd Class William F. Stetson III, right, gives the “OK” sign to let a fellow sailor know he is receiving proper oxigen flow. The U.S. Army Vessel New Orleans is serving as a diving platform for Navy and Army divers working on raising a Russian submarine in Providence Harbor on the Rhode Island coast. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Morrene E. Randell
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Usually a transport vessel, the U.S. Army Vessel New Orleans, Landing Craft Utility 2031, from the 824th Transportation Company (Heavy Boats) is rendering itself as a diving platform for Army and Navy divers attempting to salvage a sunken Russian submarine in Providence Harbor.

The New Orleans is an Army Reserve vessel manned by a crew of soldiers from 143rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary). It made its way from its home mooring in Tampa, Fla., to Rhode Island on Aug. 15 to take part in the 40-day innovative readiness training mission, a program that allows Defense Department funding, personnel and equipment to support U.S. civilian projects that provide invaluable combat training that would apply to a unit’s mission.

“It’s nice, because it’s an opportunity to get to work together with people we don’t normally work with and understand and appreciate what they are doing,” Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Anthony Tartaglia said. The crew “gets training that they can carry on either in their civilian life or in their military career,” the New Orleans’ vessel master said.

Most people don’t know the Army even has boats, or for that matter, why the Army would need them. The New Orleans is one of 35 LCU-2000 series in service and has a crew of 15 to 17 enlisted personnel and two officers and has a berthing of seven staterooms, 17 bunks and one sickbay. Its galley facilities can accommodate a full crew and passengers for two weeks. The boat is 174 feet long and is powered by twin 1,250 horsepower engines that move it at speeds up to 14 knots.

“When there are large ships that can’t come into some ports, we will go out to them,” Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Clark Patton, chief engineer of the New Orleans, said. “We also transport materiel and men, as well as help the Navy transport their materiel when needed.”

The LCU-2000 series serves the Army by transporting cargo and equipment all over the world, and it supports missions in harbors, inland waterways and the open ocean. The landing craft utility is a shallow-water landing craft capable of reaching beaches in four feet of water with a full load.

At the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 824th was dispatched to the Persian Gulf, where it served as a diving platform for divers who were clearing oil platforms of explosives. The Rhode Island mission is similar, but far less dangerous.

Beneath the New Orleans lies a Juliet 484 Russian submarine. Army and Navy divers are using the boat’s ramp as a platform to survey the sub, which sank earlier this year.

“It sank this April after a particularly nasty nor’easter,” Tartaglia explained.

The storm drove a massive wave into the harbor, and because the submarine was modified to include hatches that allow tourists onto the vessel, it was no longer watertight, he said.

Divers have removed the fore and aft visitor hatches and will replace them with dams. This will make the submarine watertight and allow the team to pump water out of one hatch while the other remains open allowing air to enter and causing it to become buoyant and float back to the surface.

“It’s in shallow water. … The deepest part is about 35 feet,” Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class William F. Stetson IV, one of the divers, said. “So it’s easy to get down to.” Stetson is with Mobile Diving Salvage Unit 2 from Little Creek, Va.

The teams of divers have been surveying the sub to come up with the safest and most practical way to raise it. “We’re in phase one of a two-part phase mission,” Stetson said. “We’ve connected four wires and hydraulic cords to keep it stable and prevent it from going any further into the channel. (In the second phase), another team will come back and actually raise the sub.”

As further insurance to stabilize the sub when it is raised in 2008, four 7,200 pound anchors called “dead men” have been buried in holes 10 feet deep and wide, and they have been attached to the submarine. The anchors also are being used to pull the submarine toward the pier with hopes it will slightly right itself and resurface.

“This is an excellent mission,” Sgt. Kristopher Stribbling said. “To get the chance to come out here and dive on a Russian submarine is phenomenal,” the Army diver added. “It’s a very unique mission being a submarine, so it has all kinds of new knowledge to take back to the unit.”

All parties involved agreed that the knowledge acquired from such a unique dive is invaluable. “You don’t get to salvage a vessel like this very often,” Stetson said.

But for the historians involved in the sub’s recovery, it’s not just about the salvage training. “We need to preserve it for historical value,” Frank Lennon, of the Russian Submarine Museum, said.

Museum officials and locals of Providence aren’t the only ones hopeful, however, that the recovery mission will succeed.

“When it comes up, I hope they find that they can restore it, so I can come back and visit it while it’s above the water,” Stetson said.

(Army Spc. Morrene E. Randell is assigned to the 204th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageNavy diver Petty Officer 2nd Class William F. Stetson III acknowledges the order to pull in the excess air hoses for divers below the water’s surface. The U.S. Army Vessel New Orleans is rendering its service as a diving platform for Navy and Army divers working on raising a Russian submarine in Providence Harbor on the Rhode Island coast. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Morrene E. Randell  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageNavy diver Maximillian Yeager double-checks Army diver Sgt. Kristopher Stribbling’s dive gear aboard U.S. Army Vessel New Orleans. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Morrene E. Randell  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA crew member of the U.S. Army Vessel New Orleans in Providence Harbor helps prepare the ship for its mission as a dive platform to raise a Russian submarine in Providence Harbor on the Rhode Island coast. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Morrene E. Randell  
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