A deep dive into the Louisville District dive team

USACE - Louisville District
Published Dec. 1, 2021
Updated: Dec. 1, 2021

It’s not every day that your duty assignment requires work to take place under mirky water, but for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District dive team, it’s just another day on the job—and has been that way for decades.
“I believe that we have had divers for over 100 years working on our locks and dams,” said Gary Birge, Louisville District Diving Program Coordinator.
The district’s dive teams perform underwater inspection and repair of locks, dams, floating plants, reservoir control towers and stilling basins throughout the year. 
“We typically dive around the locks and dams and lake projects, but we have assisted in mussel surveys in other areas too,” Birge said. “When diving by control towers at the lake projects, it’s not uncommon to reach depths of 80 feet or more. Without additional requirements, we can dive to 100 feet.”
The Louisville District currently has three dive lockers equipped with the necessary equipment to perform dive operations, such as dive helmets, air compressors, compressed air cylinders, rack/communications boxes, etc. There are dive lockers located at Markland Locks and Dam in Warsaw, Kentucky, John T. Myers Locks and Dam in Mt, Vernon, Indiana, and Olmsted Locks and Dam in Olmsted, Illinois. 
The dive team is comprised of dive supervisors/divers, divers, divers in training and tenders. Until the end of the year we have seven dive supervisors/divers, five divers and six divers-in-training.  
“They express interest in a variety of ways,” Birge said. “Some have been asked to train as dive tenders and once involved, requested to be considered for dive training. There have been cases where the individual reached out to management to express interest. I feel there are several attributes of a successful diver but those most important being interest, aptitude and physical ability.”
Members of the dive team are current employees in the district’s Operations Division and range from being engineers to lock and dam operators. Olmsted Locks and Dam Lead Maintenance Mechanic Jesse Hall is one of those divers and has been a part of the dive team since 2005. 
“When I was a kid, I lived at Lock 52. One winter I saw my dad get out of the water after diving and ice froze on his chest as he was changing. Back then all they had was wet suits. I decided then I wanted to be tough like him when I got older,” Hall said. “My favorite part about being a diver is knowing I can go underwater and get the job complete and completed right. I’ve always focused on the job and studied prints, so I knew what my moves were going to be before I entered the water.” 
Stephen Prater, also from Operations Division, has been on the district’s dive team for five years. Prior to joining USACE, Prather was a dive supervisor and an Association Diving Contractors International supervisor.
“I have been commercial diving for 12 years total, with seven of those working with various offshore and inland companies,” Prather said. “I enjoy diving because its dark and peaceful underwater, the gentle noise of just your breathing and whatever project your working on.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has strict requirements in place for all working dive operations. 
“Without question, diving is one of the most dangerous operations we perform here in the Louisville District,” said Jeremy Ball, Louisville District Safety and Occupational Health chief. “We have a great team of competent and experienced government employee and contractor divers who ‘splash’ very often at our projects.”
There is a list of training and a ‘Diver in Training and Tender in Training checklist,’ which includes 22 requirements, that all divers must complete before officially being given that title.
“Once the checklist is satisfied, the diver in training is scheduled to attend the USACE Working Diver Course in Houston, Texas, at the NASA Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory/Sonny Carter Training Center,” Birge said. 
Olmsted Locks and Dam Lock Operator Kyle Bohannon, Olmsted Locks and Dam Equipment Mechanic Casey Shultz and Smithland Locks and Dam Lock Operator Wes Riley attended dive training in August. 
“We completed open water diver certification and dry suit diving over the course of a week,” Bohannon said. “We had a lot of fun together and I know we’re all looking forward to getting back in the water.”
With Birge retiring at the end of December, Dewey Takacy will be backfilling that role as the new Louisville District Diving Program Coordinator and will be responsible for the overall management of the program that serves 17 flood-risk management projects and nine lock and dam projects. Takacy has been a member of the Louisville District Dive Team since 2010.
“The comradery of the team is unlike anything else I’ve experienced in USACE. Those that do this are volunteers and show a true passion for the missions they support,” Takacy said. “My goal over the next couple of years is to bring the Louisville Dive teams abilities to a higher level of service—focusing on raising our abilities and the scale of work we are capable of, moving in the direction of larger repairs and projects.” 
As they always have, the dive team continues to play a critical role in USACE missions.