At nearly 60 feet deep, Guatemalan Army First Lieutenant Ángela Waleska Werner Ruiz observes the silent underwater world in the Pacific coast of Guatemala. Algae swell and fish speedily disappear among the corals, as the officer discovers the sea bottom for the very first time.
Just moments before, 1st Lt. Werner and her female partners followed their instructor’s orders: They removed their diving masks and readjusted them, repeated the maneuver with lead weights, and grabbed their partners’ buoyancy compensator vest to swim with them up to the surface for an emergency exercise. Once they completed the rest of the exercises and required recreational diving activities, the group’s members, all female officers, earned their open water diving certification.
“Passing that course was a rewarding experience,” Lt. Werner of the Army’s Humanitarian Rescue Unit (UHR, in Spanish) told Diálogo. “This course fits in the training that the unit personnel should have,” she said.
Female service members’ worth
For the first time, the Guatemalan Navy conducted the Basic Diving Course for female personnel to highlight the importance of women serving the nation. The course was conducted in late October 2018 at the Guatemalan Naval School in Puerto Quetzal, Escuintla department, with the participation of 12 women of the Guatemalan Armed Forces.
According to Guatemalan Navy Ensign Jeffrey Adolfo Lemus Paiz, a diving instructor at the Naval School, the objective of the course is to “guide female personnel in open water and help them improve, because many people do not know the underwater world. The naval command’s intent is to take female personnel into account and look beyond the limits we have in place.”
The Association of Diving Instructors, better known by its French acronym, ADIP, endorses the Basic Diving Course the officers attended. The one-week course falls under the recreational level. The Guatemalan Navy said the course will later be taught at least once a month.
Three main phases make up the academic and hands-on instruction: developing knowledge to understand the basics of independent diving, immersion in confined waters to learn basic scuba-diving skills, and immersion in open water to test what was learned in classes and in the pool. The third phase enables participants to not only test the skills learned, but also explore and enjoy the underwater world for the first time with the instructor.
With this new knowledge, the Armed Forces officers will be able to move on to the 40-day tactical course offered twice a year. According to Ens. Lemus, so far only two women of the Armed Forces obtained the tactical diving certification. Both serve in high-risk security and underwater rescue operations.
“The difference between one and the other is that tactical diving includes infiltrations; search-and-rescue operations; searches for weapons, bodies, drugs, and vessels; and inspections of vessel hulls and piers,” Ens. Lemus told Diálogo. “The recreational course focuses on teaching how to use the equipment, control the immersion, and enjoy it.”
A motivational experience
For 1st Lt. Werner, the course was an opportunity to refine her rescue skills. The course and the knowledge taught, she said, are part of the activities UHR plans for rescue simulation and training in extreme conditions.
“One of the exercises UHR designed is a training dive in the Rey Marcos Caves,” the officer said of the caves in Alta Verapaz, Cobán department. “This came up as an exercise to prevent an eventual situation similar to what happened to the children who were trapped in a cave in Thailand.”
According to 1st Lt. Werner, UHR saw the importance of training its troops in a situation akin to what happened to the Thai children in July 2018. “It could happen not only there [at the Rey Marcos Caves], but also in the Izabal area, where there is a similar place, so previous training is important,” 1st Lt. Werner said.
According to the Guatemalan Navy and the female participants of the three branches of the Armed Forces, the course was a success. “It led us to consider taking the tactical diving course,” 1st Lt. Werner concluded. “It was a motivational experience that will enable the female personnel to project themselves in all areas.”