Posted on 25 March 2017
The only task that matters is the one right in front of you. Only upon completion of that initial task should you focus on tackling the next one. Overlooking steps or conducting procedures out of order can result in a multitude of consequences. Starting the blender without the cover on probably leads to a shortage of paper towels and a pissed off blender operator, right? Improper emergency procedures while breathing compressed gases under water (SCUBA / Closed Circuit UBA) can lead do an assortment of medical complications that you wouldn't want on land, let alone at up to 100 meters below the ocean surface. The strict adherence to order of operations can save your life whether it be under a parachute, under the waves, or in a gunfight.
At the United States Marine Corps Combatant Diver Course, if one fails to memorize the major gas laws that are applicable to SCUBA/UBA (verbatim), or if a student cannot show that they have a firm grasp on underwater emergency procedures, they are leaving Panama City, Florida without that coveted piece of chest candy that we call a “Bubble”. Plain and Simple.
“Pool Hits” are dreaded by some dive school students and welcomed by others. A brief explanation of what a “Pool Hit” is probably needed for some readers. Picture yourself crawling along the bottom of a 15 foot pool breathing off a two Twin-80 tanks, your partner is right next to you doing the same. You keep crawling in a rectangular pattern around the deep end of the pool for what seems like an eternity. You have your mask on, but were instructed to only stare at the pool floor. NO LOOKING AROUND because right now you are a victim.
My experience went a little differently…I saw a pair of fins right in front of me, firmly planted on the pool floor. To see why my progress was being impeded, I looked up to see an instructor holding his swimmers slate (think of a mini underwater whiteboard). It simply stated “YOU’RE F*CKED”. In a split second (as another instructor made his approach from above) my mask was off and I no longer had a regulator in my mouth, and quite a few knees made firm contact with my midsection. There was only one thing on my mind, “grab a strap and ride the lightning!” There was no concept of time for me in the moment. My swim buddy was still next to me (likely undergoing the same hardships), in actuality my only real friend was the strap I was clutching onto which was attached to the air supply I so badly needed. The the chaos ceased as abruptly as it began, with the pool hit itself only lasting twenty to twenty-five seconds, but it sure felt like longer. I could hear the instructor’s stopwatch beeping to signal that it is time for my partner and I to fix the issues that had been bestowed upon us. Despite the instructor’s persistence in attempting to rob me of my air supply, my tanks were still in my possession. My mind raced back to the time I spent over the weekend (in the Spring Break capitol of America, mind you) reading through my emergency procedures and practicing the movements while holding my breath using mock PVC pipe tanks. Moving my tanks between my legs, I began solving the issues I had with the flow of air with my hose or regulator. After correctly reassembly the tank straps, the proper donning of all equipment lost followed almost subconsciously. My first pool hit was a success…only about twelve more to go.
The standards are extremely high at the USMC Combatant Diver Course. Having just one step out of order in solving this underwater emergency, the loss of your tanks, or improper signaling for buddy breathing (asking for more air while fixing your issues is allowed) can all result in a failure. Three of those failures and a student is returning to their parent unit and is unlikely to receive a warm welcome back. The pool hit simulates a worst-case scenario and realistically prepares the student for almost anything the ocean could throw at him. But in a real world diving operation the stakes are much higher, and there is no safety structure to ensure medical treatment is promptly administered. Therefore, adherence to the dive plan is of the utmost importance, and every diver must be confident in their abilities to handle any situation that may put the team at risk.
Although many of our students may never find themselves in such a course, that does not mean that there is not something to take away from this personal account. The mindset needed to push through an extremely stressful situation requires COMPARTMENTALIZATION. Those who have trained with Ridgeline have often heard us explain the importance of having a “pre-fight checklist”, that series of steps before you squeeze that trigger straight back and to the rear. There is very little difference in the planning required to send a projectile hundreds of meters to the target and solving the problems handed out by the instructors at the Combatant Diver Course. In order to achieve the desired end state, the proper steps must be taken in the proper order. THE MOST IMPORTANT TASK IS THE ONE BEING COMPLETED AT THAT VERY MOMENT! Until that task is complete to the best of your ability, you should not be concerned with follow on steps.
This ability to compartmentalize allows for the accomplishment of skill-based actions under extreme duress. It matters not if you’re a pilot dealing with an emergency, a parachutist whose chute has suffered a malfunction, or simply trying to avoid an obstacle in the road while driving. The same applies to gunfighting. This mentality is not inherited nor is it instinctual, it must be cultivated through training and more importantly, POSITIVE REPETITIONS. Do not just train, train correctly.