Written by: Noël Daigle0122_MIGS_blog_Space_img_2

Scientists have successfully photographed a black hole, landed rovers on Mars, sent spacecraft to the dark side of the moon, and have regularly dominated travel by air for many years now. Humans exist and live in almost every known environment on earth, from summery, humid tropics to frigid, freezing Siberian and Antarctic temperatures.

But one of the last and greatest unknown frontiers in the world is the earth’s oceans, which remain more than 80% unexplored.

The seas are undeniably breathtaking, rich with beauty, mystery, and unknown secrets to be discovered.

But another side of the watery depths is the extremely harsh environment they are prone to.

0122_MIGS_blog_OceanWhale_img_3The ocean remains so foreign and unfamiliar in large part precisely because of its incredibly unforgiving environment.

And let’s be honest …humans weren’t exactly intended to exist or live deep within the ocean.

We don’t physically possess any attributes or characteristics that make it easy or even possible for us to survive leagues or any great distance away from the surface of the ocean. Our home sits firmly on its surface, where we can drink in great gulps of the air that we so desperately need to survive.

“Dr. Gene Carl Feldman, an oceanographer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, explains that the ocean, at great depths, is characterized by zero visibility, extremely cold temperatures, and crushing amounts of pressure.” *

He elaborates, “In some ways, it’s a lot easier to send people into space than it is to send people to the bottom of the ocean. The intense pressures in the deep ocean make it an extremely difficult environment to explore.” *

In space, air pressure dwindles to zero. At sea level, however, that air pressure is pushing down on your body at 15 pounds per square inch. The further down you descend, the more that pressure increases.

0122_MIGS_blog_OceanDeep_img_4Diving just 7 miles below the ocean, for example, translates to over 1,000 times more pressure than at the surface. That’s the equivalent of 50 jumbo jets pressing on your body in all directions.

There are other dangers, too. Rip currents are strong, flowing ocean currents that can pull a person away from shore and out into the open ocean. Shorebreaks cause the water to break violently on the shoreline and can result in a person tumbling and being thrown. Shark attacks are rare but when they do happen, they can be deadly.

Any advantage we have by land and air is significantly diminished by harsh oceanic conditions. Saltwater corrodes, pressure crushes, light vanishes. The environment is stronger than you are, and the fish, (even the little ones), are faster than you are. A thousand things can go wrong faster than you can even think.

0122_MIGS_blog_NavyDiver_Jesse_img_5The average person doesn’t go volunteering to exist or live out their careers in this unforgiving frontier. But a special breed of humans with a rare mix of bravado, brawn, wits, and sheer bravery do exactly this.

They’re called Navy Divers and they possess these qualities in spades. They go through a notoriously difficult and rigorous program to prove they can handle diving life and the dangers that accompany it, including the ever present danger of diving related illnesses. From enlistment to Dive School, to their first command posts, their stories are full of adventure, bravery, and sacrifice.

As it happens, the newest member of our team is Finance Specialist Jesse Reeves, and for the past 7 years, he’s lived and breathed the Navy Diver life. He also happens to be my brother and part of our family business here where we grew up, in Cottonwood, Arizona.

He agreed to sit down with me to share his experience of his time as a Navy Diver and how he became a Finance Specialist at Mold In Graphics/Polyfuze.

I sit down, a mug of hot coffee in hand, and settle in with my pen and notebook. He is my brother still, and I see that every time a wide smile breaks onto his face, which is often. But I’ve also seen him maybe a total of five times over the last 7 years, and I want to get to know the man he has become. The Navy Diver life has undeniably changed him – for the better. He holds himself with a combination of confidence and humility, sporting a full sleeve of tattoos inked by a former diver under his professional work attire. I know he has memories and stories I’ve never heard before. A whole life he lived while we were home in Arizona. A smile etches his features as he settles in for my questions.

We discuss what made him want to become a Navy Diver in the first place. I’m trying to understand what makes a human being want to take on a career that involves undeniable danger in an inhospitable environment.

0122_MIGS_blog_NavyDiver_Jesse_img_7He explains, “I was in college at the time but didn’t really have a direction yet. I knew I wanted to be part of something bigger, to do something hard. I started looking into the military and something about the Navy Dive program caught my attention. It sort of became a challenge, I wanted to see if I could do it. I also loved the ocean and thought, what better job would there be than to get paid to be in the ocean?”

So that’s what he did. I have a unique perspective of this time as his sister. I lived in Flagstaff, Arizona at the time. A mountain town nestled at 7,000 ft. Athletes migrate from all over the world to train on our mountains. At the time I was running a loop at the base of the highest peak in Arizona, Mt. Humphreys. I remember watching my brother run the same loop as I was but sprinkling it with heavy amounts of calisthenics and sprinting intervals. His determination was inspiring.

0122_MIGS_blog_FlagstaffTraining_img_8The conversation moves towards the specifics of training. The physical demands of a Navy Diver cannot be overlooked. If you aren’t ready physically, you won’t make it in the program. I ask how he approached training with no prior competitive swimming experience whatsoever. He laughs and explains, “I was self-taught. I actually watched YouTube a lot, believe it or not. I researched the videos extensively, picking out important techniques. I practiced them double, triple, as many times as I could. I trained and honed in those techniques that I saw and repeated them back to back, over and over. I figured if I could do them multiple times with no issues, then I would be able to test on them without much difficulty. I also used a go-pro to film myself swimming so I could compare my technique and improve upon it.”

0122_MIGS_blog_NavyDiver_Jesse_Group_img_9I pause to take a sip of coffee and think about the thousands of young adults sitting at home on their video game consoles or believing the culmination of life is an endless string of college parties. Directionless, aimless as an anchorless ship drifting at sea. I think about the strength it takes to deny oneself immediate satisfaction, ease, and comfort, and willingly choose a life that will be difficult. That will test you. That will make you bring all of yourself every single day. That will sometimes leave you defeated and exhausted, longing for your bed at the end of a “rougher than normal” day.

I glance back at my notes. What was the Navy Dive Program like? He elaborates. “So first, you train. Constantly. Until you are exhausted and feel like you can’t possibly go anymore. Then you test to get a contract. Once you get a contract, you enter what’s known as the delayed entry program. I waited seven months in the delayed entry program to go to boot camp. During this time, you still have to test monthly to maintain your status in the program. If you fail any of the tests, you’re out.

0122_MIGS_blog_NavyDiver_Jesse_img_10Then you ship off to boot camp. After boot camp, you go through the dive preparatory course, which is about 4-6 months long. This is where the hardest part of the physical testing takes place and where a lot of people end up dropping out. If you pass the dive preparatory course, you go to Dive School. Dive School involves physical testing but is also heavy on academic testing. It is very difficult; you have to stay focused. This is where I learned closed/open circuits, salvage, hyperbarics, etc. You participate in a lot of labs, including specific dives.”

I imagine the difficulty he must have endured during this portion of the program. Can you describe a defining moment for you during this time? He chuckles and I can see the memories playing themselves across his expression. “We were doing something called “over/unders.” Essentially, the class divides into two halves, with each half on opposite ends of the pool from each other. One side dives to the bottom of the pool and swims to the other side. The other side swims along the top, underwater, to the other side. You do this over and over, with calisthenics in between. Push-ups, sit-ups, etc. Just endless repetitions. The point is to train to hold your breath for long periods of time and to increase stamina and endurance.

He was having a really hard time with this the first few days and actually kept finishing last. He wasn’t sure why it was so difficult for him, but it was. “I was very out of breath and wasn’t keeping up. I remember my instructor pulled me aside and gave me an academic review board. He asked me what was going on, why I was having a hard time. I couldn’t explain it. He gave me some advice I’ve never forgotten.” “Always be first. Don’t conserve your energy, max out, be first.”

“See I had thought that by conserving my breath and pacing myself that I was approaching the exercise the right way. But I took what he said to heart and the next day, I maxed out. I didn’t hold back; I just went for it. He was right. I did very well and never felt out of breath.”

He learned that if one really wants to accomplish something, it needs to be given the maximum amount of effort up front. Don’t hold back. “You’ll end up struggling less and might surprise yourself,” he says.

0122_MIGS_blog_NavyDiver_Jesse_FirstAssignment_10I can’t help but smile back at my brother. I’m so proud of him and how hard he worked to accomplish his dreams and goals. It’s something of a revelation to witness the evolution of a human being. I’ve seen him scared, angry, upset, defeated, and happy. I somehow always knew in my soul that he would leave his mark on this world. I know he’s only just begun.

He describes his first command post and his first real working dive. Stationed in Florida, he was assigned to an 80-foot stranded vessel recovery. It had six propellers and had somehow run over a line that got helplessly caught in four of those props. He recalls his Master Diver stating (with a sly grin) that it would be a good first dive for him to learn on.

The conditions were rowdy, with 4-6 seas that day. Jesse and his buddy did the dive together and swam underneath the massive vessel. Grabbing hold of one of the propeller shafts, they began to slice at the tangled line with knives. Because of the swells that day, it was like riding a bull. Upside down. With a knife. I can see him reliving the memory as he states that he asked himself at that moment “is this really my job?? How freaking cool is this?”

I have to agree it’s pretty freaking cool, even while admitting sheepishly that I am quite sure I would’ve perished in a panic attack and botched the mission if it has been me.

0122_MIGS_blog_NavyDiver_Jesse_12He tells me other stories. How he got to jump out of helicopters. How he went on solo mission dives in turbid, slightly murky waters. He recalls seeing shadows darting all around him. Large ones. “I couldn’t see what kind of fish they were, but they were big, I knew that much. And I was in Key West, which is known for having a lot of sharks. That was a bit eerie.”

I agree wholeheartedly and again marvel at the courage it takes to perform such duties under pressure and “less than desirable” conditions.

How does being deep in the ocean make him feel, I wonder? He leans back in his chair for a moment, contemplating. “A lot of people talk about how they feel claustrophobic in the water. I kind of feel the opposite. There’s endless space, everywhere. I remember a particular dive at dusk. It was getting dark, and I descended to 80 feet in 450-ft of water and used my sonar equipment to locate a “mine shape” (a fake mine for testing & research) for a test we were doing. I located the mine and grabbed onto the chain attached to the mine and looked down. The rest of the equipment plunged into absolute darkness. All I could feel was the vast expanse all around me, and I got the feeling that I might fall. I just remember holding onto that chain and feeling like an endless fall was imminent. I snapped back into focus, finished up the job, and went home.”

0122_MIGS_blog_NavyDiver_Jesse_married_13We all have moments and experiences in life that define us, that impact us in undeniable ways, altering our trajectories and changing who we are. I want to know how being a Navy Diver has impacted his personal life and career. What lessons does he carry with him?

With no hesitation, he thoughtfully summarizes the lessons he applies to every situation in which he finds himself. “You can go further than you think you can. I promise. Be precise. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Navy Diver on an important mission or working in Finance or your relationship with your spouse. Paying attention to details matters. You have to have community, family. They’re your rock and your anchor. Lastly, there’s always, always something bigger to be a part of than just yourself.”

What did Diving teach you about failure and fear? Any advice for the readers? As someone who has spent countless hours in an environment that could kill him, performing difficult tasks, he answers succinctly. “Failure is ok. As long as you learn from it. Fear is ok too. It has good utility in that it heightens your awareness and gives weight to situations. It’s about letting yourself be exposed to fear and failure, and then learning to control them, not succumb to them.”

During his time as a Navy Diver, he also dated and married his wife, Lily. Military relationships are notorious for being difficult to maintain. The strain that military life impresses upon a relationship tests even the strongest of marriages. How did he and his wife ensure their relationship stayed healthy during this time together? His face lights up when he talks about her. “I was very fortunate because she’s a very independent woman and is accomplished in her own life and career. She always supported my dreams and career in the Navy and my education while I supported her in her education and career. We have a lot of loyalty, trust, and love. I’m very proud of her. I couldn’t do anything without the relationship that we have.”

He was one of the military men who took advantage of free education during his time in the Navy. As soon as he got to his first command, he started on his Bachelor of Business/Entrepreneurship. He finished his degree during this time. When he moved to his second command, he began his master’s with an emphasis in Finance. The act of balancing school, work, and his personal life was difficult, but his wife was also working on her master’s at the same time. They motivated each other and buckled down, with great success.

He chose finance as his emphasis because he knew he wanted to move back home and help with the family businesses, which include Mold In Graphic Systems, Polyfuze Graphics Corp., and Ambiente A Landscape Hotel.

He described how much he loves being home and working at the family business. “I’m so blessed to be able to be a part of it all. There’s a lot of pride that comes from the legacy of what my Grandfather started and built, as well as what other family members have contributed and helped forge. The culture here is all about self and collective improvement which is inspiring. And the family aspect extends beyond biological. Many of the people who work here have been here since I was a kid. I’ve known them forever. We’re all a family.”

0122_MIGS_blog_NavyDiver_Jesse_Group2_img_9I close up my notebook and take my last sip of coffee. I contemplate my brother who left 7 years ago a boy and returned a man. Sure of himself and his path. What it comes down to, I believe, is that there are men and women in this world who feel a call to something deeper, something bigger. They may not see the whole picture yet, but they see clearly that they can play a vital role that helps fill in one more piece of that picture. They see that everything you choose to do really matters, more than people even think it does. It’s a form of wisdom that comes only through shouldering responsibility and striding head-on into the hard and difficult things. It’s what separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls.

It’s the passionate answer to the echoing call of a fire that burns within all of our souls to pursue meaning and victory in our own lives. To bring the same level of effort you’d give in a life or death, deep-sea diving situation, that you would in your office helping with a company’s finances, or that you would to your relationship with your spouse and children, or that you might even offer to a stranger on the street in need of help.

0122_MIGS_blog_NavyDiver_Jesse_Group3_img_10It’s the people who want to be able to present themselves at the end of a life lived with exhausted, “maxed out” humility, strength, generosity, and grace. With the bone-deep knowledge that they gave it everything they had. Nothing was left nothing on the table, every card was played.

There is a truth to this that our souls know very well, whether we acknowledge it or not. I’m thankful for the men and women who help us see that truth and inspire us to live each day with it in our hearts.

This article is written in honor of all of the men and women who have served the American Military in any branch. We are thankful for your sacrifice and willingness to defend our freedom. We are also thankful to the spouses that uphold their partner as they do so.

*(Source) https://oceana.org/blog/why-does-so-much-ocean-remain-unexplored-and-unprotected/