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Video: Plowing the 'sea farm' in hunt for sea mines

By HENDRICK SIMOES | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 7, 2013

PERSIAN GULF — Nobody involved on this particular mission has ever come across a real sea mine. Nonetheless, sailors in Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron 15 practice a process known as “mechanical sweeps” on a routine basis.

It’s a methodical process in which a contraption designed to cut the chains anchoring sea mines is towed from an MH-53 helicopter flying about 75 feet above the ocean surface — often for hours — back and forth.

It’s for this reason that air warfare specialists aboard the MH-53s often refer to this operation as plowing the field, peeling the onion, or sea farming.

And like farming, it’s a grueling, slow process requiring patience and stamina to overcome the environmental elements.

Cutting the chain anchoring a sea mine would allow it to float to the surface, where ordnance disposal divers would corral it and eliminate it through a controlled detonation.

There are only two squadrons in the Navy that perform airborne mine countermeasures missions making their community a close knit one.

Petty Officer 1st Class Nick Vitouski, a safety observer on a recent flight, has been doing it for 10 years.

“I never thought I would get into this business,” he said.

A prior instructor, he’s now flying with his former students, making sure they’re implementing his lessons.

No rogue mines were discovered on this mission, flown during the U.S. 5th Fleet-led international mine countermeasures exercise in the Persian Gulf last month. The three-week exercise involved 6,500 sailors from 41 nations practicing various aspects of maritime security.

simoes.hendrick@stripes.com
Twitter: @hendricksimoes

Air crewmen in the back of an MH-53 helicopter May 17th, prepare for a mine sweeping process in which the helicopter tows underwater equipment that can cut the chains off sea mines, thereby revealing them when they float to the surface.
Hendrick Simoes/Stars and Stripes

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