1st AD reservist dies while scuba diving
BABADAG TRAINING AREA, Romania — A 42-year-old reservist based in Wiesbaden, Germany, died while scuba diving off the coast of Constanta, Romania, on Tuesday during a day off from a training exercise, Army officials said Wednesday.
The reservist, Master Sgt. Harlan Hellmuth of the 1st Armored Division Rear Operations Center, died after apparently swallowing water while diving in the Black Sea. He was diving with three other soldiers taking part in ROMEX ’05, a two-week training exercise headed by the Division Engineers, 1st Armored Division, said Maj. Donovan Avery, commander of 7th Army Reserve Command, which oversees about 900 reservists stationed in Germany.
The 1st Armored Division announced the death Tuesday afternoon but withheld details pending notification of his family.
Hellmuth had gone about 9 feet under water, then returned to the surface complaining that he swallowed water, according to Sgt. 1st Class Derrick Witherspoon, a 7th ARC spokesman.
Hellmuth lost consciousness on the boat and others on the craft tried to revive him, Witherspoon said. A medical boat met Hellmuth’s boat on its way back to shore, he said. A doctor on shore pronounced Hellmuth dead.
The trip was part of a Morale, Welfare and Recreation outing offered to soldiers during two weeks of training in Romania.
Hellmuth was an avid diver with 15 years of experience who had completed the Army Scuba School, people who worked with him said. He often talked about scuba trips he had taken, including times he swam with dolphins. Hellmuth was born in Missouri and had a wife and two stepsons, Witherspoon said.
Hellmuth, a former Marine and active-duty soldier, served 23 years in the military, deploying in the Persian Gulf War, to Bosnia in 1996 and to Baghdad in 2003, his colleagues said.
“He was the type of [noncommissioned officer] who got his hands dirty,” said Lt. Col. Michael Johnson, a reservist in the 7th ARC who worked with Hellmuth from 1996 to 1998 and served in Bosnia with him. “He was the first one in the truck and the last one out.”
Hellmuth helped set up the V Corps Headquarters tactical operations center in Baghdad in early 2003, said Col. Bob Soechting, commander of the 280th Rear Operations Center in Mannheim, Germany.
“He certainly had a heart about him,” Soechting said. “But he could be as hard as woodpecker lips if he needed to be.”
Spc. Leslie “Chappi” Chapman worked with Hellmuth since October and was one of 18 soldiers attached to the 1st AD Rear Operations Command handling security at ROMEX.
He handed Hellmuth a cup of coffee before he left for Constanta on Tuesday.
Hours later, the reservists received the bad news in a telephone call.
“He’d always say, ‘Complete the mission and get home safe,’” Chapman said. “Right now the mission is complete, but it’s not a success because he’s not coming home.”