By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Heather M. Brown, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command Public Affairs
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (NNS) -- Since returning from deployment, Sailors assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) 2 have been nothing but busy, with their schedules packed with training evolutions in preparation of salvaging a 150 year-old captured enemy vessel.
The Civil War ironclad CSS Georgia has resided at the bottom of the Savannah River in Georgia, since she was intentionally scuttled in 1864 by the Confederates to prevent capture and an attempt to obstruct the river. It wasn't until more than 100 years later that it was rediscovered and plans were made to begin the process of removing her from the river for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP).
MDSU-2 divers have been assigned to assist the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) during SHEP June 1-July 20 to bring up parts of the ship's armor systems, steam engine components, small structure pieces and all her weapons, which include four cannons and upwards of 50 projectiles, which are either rifle shells or the standard cannon ball.
"Because of our expertise we were the ones that were tasked to go get CSS Georgia on the surface and out of the way for the larger project of expanding the river," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jason Potts, commander for Mobile Diving Salvage Company 23. "This is what we live for; it's what we do day in and day out. When it comes to mobile diving, salvage, underwater ship husbandry and force protection, these guys are more proficient than any dive team in the Navy right now."
The divers started the week-long training May 11, by going to Williamsburg, Virginia, to familiarize themselves with the gear they will be using in Georgia. In the following days, they conducted dive operations at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Virginia. Each diver was given an opportunity to rehearse which roles they will be conducting during the actual event, as well training in a murky-water environment similar to the conditions in which the CSS Georgia rests.
"We are the world's experts on diving and we train so we won't make mistakes," said Navy Diver 1st Class Calum Sanders of MDSU-2. "It ensures that we can remain to be the best and that we can successfully accomplish any mission that is given to us."
In only a few weeks, MDSU-2 divers will make the trip to Savannah, Georgia, to begin salvaging the ship, but due to the presence of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in the Georgia's wreckage they won't be alone. Navy explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technicians from EOD Mobile Unit 6 Shore Detachment King's Bay, Georgia, will also aid in the recovery of cannons and cannonballs. Once the items are recovered, Navy EOD will work alongside their Marine Corps EOD counterparts to render the items safe at an offsite location.
The remainder of the wreckage and artifacts the divers recover will become the responsibility of U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) and will be curated at one of NHHC's repositories and Conservation Research Laboratory (CRL) located at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas.
"We're just one small piece of this project," said Senior Chief Navy Diver Steve Askew. "This operation has been going on for many years and to be able to raise portions of the ship along with artifacts means a lot to the entire team. To able to be a part of such an important and historical operation is an honor."
Navy Divers are in the water every day, throughout the world, performing a diverse array of mission sets. With 2015 serving as The Year of the Military Diver, the CSS Georgia is a perfect illustration of their capabilities as they dive into history.