When an organization works with a district in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, one of the benefits to them is not only getting the knowledge and expertise within that district but an entire spectrum of capabilities from across the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
That ability to reach out and utilize expertise from another district is known as reach back and it’s a resource USACE’s Transatlantic Middle East District (TAM) used when it was in need of dive safety support. While many USACE districts maintain dams, levees and other water related infrastructure with a need for dive safety expertise, TAM’s primary mission is supporting USCENTCOM and allied partners in the Middle East. Recently however, the district found itself working a pier refurbishment project for the U.S. Navy in Bahrain that included the need for safety dive plans and observation support for several dives by the contractor.
Luckily for Melanie Barajas, TAM’s Chief of Safety, USACE civilians in other districts were willing to answer the call.
Barajas explained that prior to any dive, the contractor has to submit a comprehensive dive safety plan and it has to be reviewed and approved independently by the Designated Dive Coordinator (DDC) and a Dive Safety Representative (DSR). The dive safety plan covers numerous topics such as how the team will conduct the dive operations, the dive team’s training certificates, emergency response and rescue plans, activity hazard analyses, and much more.
“Dive operations are considered a high risk/hazard operation by USACE’s definition and require specialized support. Personnel who provide the dive support are certified through the USACE Diving Safety/Diving Supervisor/Diving Inspector/Diving Coordinator or Dive Safety Administration Course, but since we don’t have an ongoing need for something so specialized, it’s not cost effective for us to send someone to the course,” said Barajas. “We’re fortunate that we have a strong volunteer roster of people in other districts who are certified in dive safety who are willing to help us when needed. It’s a win-win, we get their expertise and they get a great professional development opportunity, a way to gain more dive experience and the chance to see a part of the world they might not otherwise.”
One such dive safety representative was Dennis Bradley, USACE’s Little Rock District Chief of Safety & Occupational Health. Bradley said that while the skillset and mission requirements were very similar to working on a dive safety plan in the U.S., he appreciated the opportunity to work with another district and experience a change of scenery.
“Although I didn't find that the diving in the Middle East was much different than what we do in the states, it was nice to experience another culture. Everyone was very professional and respectful and when I advised the contractor of an infraction he took immediate action to correct it. Other than the language barrier I found it to be pretty much the same. They used the same equipment that we do and follow the same safety and health regulations,” said Bradley.
Bradley said even the language barrier was overcome by the smiles and gestures that kept everyone moving towards their common goal.
In addition to Little Rock District, TAM has also utilized Dive experts from the USACE Dive Community of Practice from Louisville and Sacramento Districts and also utilized the Tulsa District to review dive safety plans.
“I really appreciate the top-notch support we’ve received from everyone,” said Barajas. “It’s not just for the District but ensures our mission partners are getting the expertise they’ve come to expect.”
For his part, Bradley said he’d gladly help the district support future operations.
“I didn't consider this "just another job" because I felt like the talent that I brought to the table was well received and that everyone wanted to do what was right and I was able to facilitate that. I enjoyed my time in the Middle East and would make myself available again should they ever need my services.”