Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sailor Re-enlists Aboard Sunken Carrier

Sailors reenlist aboard ship every day, but Personnelman 1st Class (SW/AW) Kevin Armold, a supervisor at Naval Air Station Pensacola's (NASP) Personnel Service Detachment, won’t be serving on board the ship he chose to take his oath. Armold raised his right hand to accept another term of service, July 6, while on board the former aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CV 34), which lays in more than 200 feet of water at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Maj. Shean Phelps, an aerospace medicine resident at Naval Aerospace Medical Institute, conducted the ceremony via underwater talking apparatus on Oriskany’s “smoking deck” at a depth of 85 feet. “As you start descending down toward the ship, you see this massive piece of steel sitting on the bottom just start appearing,” Armold said. “As we got down closer to it, we found the deck where they have a U.S. flag and a POW flag, and that’s where we actually performed [the reenlistment]. It was just amazing to actually see.”The top of Oriskany’s “island” structure is at a depth of about 68 feet. It’s a 106-foot dive to the ship’s bridge. The H2O Below, a local dive charter boat, took the group of 15 divers out to Oriskany. H2O Below divemaster Paul Sjordal shot still photography while Phelps discharged and then reenlisted Armold with the traditional Navy reenlistment articles. A planned submerged reenlistment date of July 4 had to be postponed two days due to rough seas. The avid open-water certified scuba diver made the decision to reenlist underwater on board Oriskany while watching a Discovery Channel special on the sinking of the ship, which was sunk May 17, 2006, approximately 23 miles off the coast of Pensacola. “I‘ve been on a carrier before,” Armold said, “but to see one that has the history that ship has ... it’s a tremendously impressive sight.” The contract and certificate was laminated for use under water and a grease pencil was used by Armold to sign his reenlistment; an actual submission copy was signed with ink on land. Clint Rutherford of Escambia County Search and Rescue provided technical support for the project including the loan of the full-face communications apparatus. “We were actually able to speak and hear the oath while we were under water,” Armold said.
USS Oriskany (CV 34)
Local dive shop MBT Divers Inc., of Pensacola was also instrumental in their encouragement and support with the planning, according to Phelps. Armold recruited Phelps’ help from a local online divers' message board. “He put out a post on the message board asking if there were any officers that dive out there,” Phelps said. “He said he wanted to reenlist on Oriskany and I thought it was a great idea. I said ‘it’s an honor to me to do it. On the world’s largest artificial reef. How can it get any better than this?’” Phelps believes there hasn’t been a reenlistment on board Oriskany since at least the mid-1970s. Oriskany was decommissioned on Sept. 30, 1975. Armold was pleased with the way the reenlistment unfolded. “It was something I don’t think I’ll ever forget,” Armold said. “I knew there had been underwater reenlistments before, but I believe this is probably the first one on a sunken naval vessel, especially this one as an artificial reef. “I wasn’t looking at it as [an historical event], just as a way to bring some credit to the dive and military communities. More so than anything, I was able to mix two important factors in my life that I enjoy doing, and it was a wonderful experience to bring them together,” Armold concluded. Armold grew up snorkeling and scuba diving in the waters off the Florida Keys. Armold has dived in exotic locations such as Ibiza and Palma, Spain; the Red Sea and the coast of Dubai. He enlisted in the Navy in 1995 and has completed three cruises on board USS Carter Hall (LSD 50), USS Nashville (LPD 13) and USS Enterprise (CVN 65).

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