Ice camp: Under harsh conditions in northern Greenland, Navy’s builder-sailors show their stuff
By DAVE RESS | Daily Press | Published: May 2, 2021
(Tribune News Service) — The ice was 4 feet thick. The water temperature below was 28 degrees. The wind howled south from the
And the team from
It was so cold that Lt. j.g.
“We’d chop into the ice and when we got a foot deep, if we didn’t move a warming tent over it, it’d freeze right away,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class
“We could work outside for maybe a couple of hours at a time,” he said. “You’d put on lots of layers, but after working for a bit, you’d get so warm you’d want to pull your gloves off to cool down — but then you’d cool down so fast you’d need to head into one of the warming tents.”
It was new experience for most of the
The construction battalion went through cold weather training at a
“There were lots of good ideas,” Hutson said.
The Seabees were there to make a point — that the
“We were there to show we are committed to being in
But they didn’t need it. A key part of the mission was for the divers to get a firm sense of how long they could stay in that freezing water — sometimes to depths of 50 feet — before being tempted to head to the surface too quickly for safety, Wolff said.
“It varies for every diver,” he said.
Still, they’d usually flash the Navy’s four-fingered hand signal that means “time to go” after about 10 minutes — and even if their diving partner thought it possible to stay down a little longer, the drilled-in
That was one of the key things they needed to test, Wolff said. It worked.
And, though Wolff wasn’t sure the “wagon wheel” — a system of concentric, spoked circles carved into ice to help divers navigate — that Hutson and his fellow Seabees made would let enough light through 4 feet of ice to be useful, one of the lessons learned in
The construction battalion, meanwhile, proved its ice-camp building skills — setting up a warming tents over the holes they’d chopped into the ice for the divers, as well as a heated space for divers to don the layers of dry clothing they needed when out of the water and warmed tents for equipment, said Lt. jg
After setting up the ice camp, construction battalion Seabees focused on testing their metal-cutting and welding gear, as well as on working with concrete and erecting timber construction.
One big challenge was the concrete — it doesn’t cure properly in extreme cold or damp, and the Seabees learned they had to work with it in heated spaces.
Tools and equipment sometimes didn’t work as they should — it was so cold that mechanical parts could shrink and not move properly. Diesel engines needed modification to start in the extreme cold, battery life was shorter and electric components sometime froze. Heavy clothing made it hard to move, keeping focused in the extreme cold wasn’t always easy.
“I’m from northern