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Home > Training > Combat Diver Qualification Course (CDQC)

Combat Dive Course - Rebreather

Combat Diver Qualification Course (CDQC). One of the advanced skills schools that John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (USAJFKSWCS) runs is the Special Forces Combat Diver Qualification Course (SFCDQC) on Fleming Key at the Key West Naval Air Station, Key West, Florida. The school at Key West was established in 1964 by a SCUBA detachment of the JFK Special Warfare Center. It currently hosts students primarily from U.S. Army Special Forces but also the other services.

Diver Badges.  Upon successful completion of the Combat Diver Qualification Course students are authorized to wear a diver badge on their uniform.  See Diver Badges at The Institute of Heraldry for more info.

Scuba Diver Badge
(replaced with Special Operations Diver Badge)

Special Forces Combat Diver Badge

Special Operations Diver Badge
(approved 17 Sep 2004)

Special Operations Combat Diver Badge

Special Operations Diving
Supervisor Badge
(approved 17 Sep 2004)

Special Operations Diving Supervisor Badge

The course has seen many changes in the program of instruction and length of the course since it was established in the late 1960s.  Special Forces detachments started training in Key West, Florida on temporary duty in the early 1960s.  The course length has varied from three to six weeks. As of 2021 the course was 6 weeks long. One thing has always remained constant - it is an extremely physically challenging and mentally tough school.

Mask Retrieval - Maritime Assessment Course (MAC)

Photo: A Green Beret, assigned to 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), with hands and feet restrained, retrieves his scuba mask with his mouth during a training session of the Maritime Assessment Course (MAC), January 6 17, 2020. The Maritime Assessment Course, formerly known as "pre-scuba," is a prerequisite course that physically and mentally prepares Soldiers for the rigors of the Combat Diver Qualification Course. (photo by Staff Sgt. Travis Fontane, Jan 1, 2020)

Pre-SCUBA.  Prior to sending personnel to the CDQC most units will weed out weak swimmers and those lacking motivation with a Pre-SCUBA course.  Usually Pre-SCUBA lasts two to three weeks depending on the branch of service and unit. SWCS does offer a POI to follow which inlcudes a lot of pool work, water confidence drills, and long-distance swimming. In the old days (when it was a hard school) you used to have to do bobbing drills and cross-overs. Pre-SCUBA is currently known as the Maritime Assessment Course although most Green Berets refer to it as "Pre-SCUBA".

CDQC Program of Instruction (POI).  Knot tying, water survival, open-circuit twin-80s SCUBA, closed-circuit SCUBA (using the DRAEGER LAR V O3 Rebreather), submarine lock-in and lock-outs, ship bottom searches, underwater navigation (compass swims), long-distance surface swims, underwater search and recovery, and maritime infiltration operations. The course includes boat operations with Zodiacs and Klepper kayaks.

Detailed Program of Instruction (POI) for CDQC

Physical Fitness.  Every morning there is a physical training formation with lots of exercises and fast runs.

Classroom Instruction.  Some of the topics taught in the classroom include dangerous marine life, tides and currents, CPR, diving injuries and diving physiology, inspection and maintenance of diving gear, oxegen tolerance and chamber pressure test, diving physics, regulator repair, and use of diving tables for determing air supply and decompression.

Pool Work.  The CDQC starts off with basic SCUBA orientation in the pool. The student learns knot tying, pool conditioning drills, instruction in dive equipment and procedures, ditching and donning of equipment, confidence swims and open water surface swims.

Open Water Swims.  The student conducts long-distance surface swims as well as open-circuit and closed-circuit equipment sub-surface swims. The sub-surface swims are timed compass swims.

Special Forces Under Water Operations - SFUWO

Open-circuit Swims. Students will start off using compressed-air systems - currently twin-80s. In past years, the equipment used was steel twin-72s. The first week - pool week - is where the OC equipment is introduced. The next stage is to conduct open-water underwater navigational swims with the OC equipment. Then they will transition to the closed-circuit equipment. All swims require navigational expertise as well as meeting minimum time requirements.

Closed-circuit Swims.  Students are currently using the DRAEGER LAR V rebreather.  Prior to the LAR V students used the CCR-1000 and in earlier days the Emerson Rig. Click here for a detailed look at a LAR V.

The DRAEGER LAR V is a chest-worn rebreather used by Special Operations personnel for long-distance sub-surface swims.  This is the O2 rig used in the Combat Diver Qualification Course. The rig has an O2 bottle attached to the bottom of the outer case. The scrubber pulls out the CO2 out of the recirculated air that the diver continues to breath.  Periodically the O2 bottle releases O2 to replenish the breathing apparatus.

Combat Diver DRAEGER LAR V
Special Forces Dive School - Kayaks

Maritime Operations.  In addition to the classroom instruction, pool work, and distance swims the student will also be trained in other areas to include submarine lock-in and lock-out procedures, underwater searches, cast and recovery, ship bottom searches, deep dive, infiltration techniques, small boat operations, use of kayaks, waterproofing and bundle rigging.

FTX.  The course concludes with an maritime Field Training Exercise (FTX) incorporating many of the aspects of the course instruction and an end of course final examination.

Advanced Training with ODAs. Upon graduation from the Combat Diver course the Special Forces student is usually assigned to a Special Forces Combat Dive operational detachment.  Once the newly assigned member becomes experienced in Special Forces maritime operations he may very likely attend advanced combat diver training.  One of the locations that the advanced training takes place is Key West, Florida on a small navy base called Naval Air Station Key West.

Many Special Forces groups provide inflatable boats to their dive teams for the conduct of MAROPs and dive requalification. A commonly issued boat is the Zodiac seen in the photo to the right.

Special Forces Combat Rubber Raiding Craft Zodiac

Combat Diver Supervisor Course (CDS)

 The Combat Diver Supervisor course is three-weeks long.  The Combat Diving Supervisor plans, coordinates, prepares for, and supervises diving operations on a Special Forces detachment.  He conducts detailed dive planning and pre-dive equipment inspections.  He is trained in tides and currents, maritime boat operations, various means of maritime infilitration.

Physics of Diving.  The dive sup is schooled in diving physics, dive physiology, Navy dive tables, emergency medical treatment for dive injuries, and hyperbaric operations.

Knowledge of dive equipment is a big part of the dive supervisors job.  The dive supervisor is very familar with open and closed circuit equipment (O2 rigs), field repair of equipment, and handling of high-pressure air and oxegen systems. He must be qualified in the DRAEGER LAR-V dive set.

At one time students in the CDS course were required to complete a Para-SCUBA jump into the waters off of Key West.  A Para-SCUBA jump requires the donning of twin 80 SCUBA tanks and then putting on a parachute with other assorted equipment and then a jump into "Shark DZ".

Diving Medical Technician Course (DMT)

The DMT course is three-weeks long.  Special Forces medics on Combat Dive detachments attend the DMT course at Key West.  At the course they learn advanced medical procedures associated with the recognition and treatment of diving injuries, SCUBA lifesaving measures, and administering hyperbaric treatment for diving injuries. In addition, they learn the operation of a recompression chamber.

References and Training Manuals for Combat Diver Course

Management of Army Divers. Army Regulation 611-75, 20 July 2007. An Adobe Acrobat PDF file located on the Army Publishing Directorate (APD) accessed on October 22, 2011.

ATP 3-34.84, Multi-Service Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Military Diving Operations (MD), February 2015. Air Land Sea Application Center (ALSA). This MTTP describes United States (US) military dive mission areas (DMAs), force structure, equipment, and primary missions each Service could provide in support of joint operations to assist commanders and staffs at all levels.

TM 3-34.84, Swift Water Diving Operations, March 2015. Headquarters, Department of the Army.

Special Forces Waterborne Operations.  FM 3-05.212, September 30, 2009.

Military Diving.  FM 20-11.

Publications about the Special Forces Dive School

"Waterborne Infiltration Training: Maintaining a Battle Focus", Special Warfare Magazine, July 1995. (Acobat Adobe file pdf located here).

"U.S. Navy Special Warfare - from Frogmen to SEALs", Special Warfare Magazine, Spring 1989, pages 24-27.

"Combat Diving in Special Warfare", Special Warfare Magazine, Volume 29, Issue 2, July - December 2016, pages 50-51.

Miscellaneous Publications and Papers about Combat Diving

Herr, Andrew and Lt. Scott Cheny-Peters. Between Iron Man and Aqua Man: Exosuit Opportunities in Maritime Operations, Center for New America Security (CNAS), January 2014.

Books about Combat Divers and Diving

The following link will take you to an Amazon.com Associate Bookstore with listings about books on combat divers and combat diving.

News Articles about Combat Diver Qualification Course (CDQC)

"Waging war below the waves: Special Forces combat diver school is in session", Washington Examiner, December 26, 2020.

"Improvement Plans in the Works for Special Forces Underwater Operations School", U.S. Department of Defense, July 6, 2015.

"Army Special Forces Underwater Operations School makes its mark on Key West". Army.mil, January 14, 2013. News article on the free ascent tower at SFUWO School and SGM Walter Shumate - a founder of the early dive school at Key West in October 1964.

 "Dr. Christian Lambertsen, Father of American Combat Swimming, Honored". Defense Media Network. Ashes scattered at Key West, FL dive school. March 12, 2012.

"Combat Diver Qualification Course challenges Special Forces". US Army, March 8, 2011.

"How do you get to work: land, sea or air? Combat divers can take their pick". soc.mil, February 15, 2011.

"Combat divers remain selective in their mode of travel". Paraglide, February 24, 2011.

"The water sorts it out". Army News. November 1, 2010.

"Cadet Perspective on Combat Diver School". Army ROTC, Marquette University, Summer 2010.

Combat Diver Qualification Course. Images on DVIDS. March 10, 2010.

Videos About Special Forces Underwater Operations School

Surviving the Cut - Special Forces Combat Diver. Discovery Channel documentary.

August 24, 2015. Army Special Forces Underwater Operations School. Key West, Florida is a lovely tourist destination . . . but it is also home to the Army's Combat Dive School. 4-min video posted to YouTube.com by the U.S. Army.

August 2014. On Every Front - Special Forces Combat Diver, National Guard YouTube. Combat divers from 3rd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group participate in training and rdive requalification at the Special Forces Underwater Operations Schoo in Key West, Florida. (7 minutes).

Video - 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) Combat Diver Training, 3rd SFGA. (3 minutes).

"Florida Army National Guard Aviators in Key West", DVIDS, February 16, 2011. A video showing aviators supporting the Key West SF Underwater Operations School in helicast and rolled-duck operations. (click here).

Video - Special Forces Underwater Operations Combat Diver Course. Video by the Special Warfare Center and School. (click here to view video).

Video - Ranger Pre-SCUBA Course. A video depicting the training Rangers go through in Pre-Combat Dive Course. Pre-SCUBA prepares and selects candidates to go forward to the Army Special Forces Combat Diver Course at Key West. (Click here to view the video).

Video - Special Operations Combat Diver with Diver Propulsion Vehicles. MILpictures.com. (click here to see the video).

Video - Special Forces Water Jump Out of C-130. (click here for video).

Photos of Combat Diver Qualification Course

Photo from CDQC 2010.  flickr.com.

Other Websites with Information on Combat Diver Course

Special Forces Underwater Operations School.  GlobalSecurity.org.

Combat Divers School.  Tactical MilSim Magazine.


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