There is a particular degree of indescribable darkness one encounters when submerged underwater, at night, on a combat swimmer dive. It is like being suspended in liquid weightlessness, while a black hole of complete darkness lurks below and an ever-so-slightly less opaque void of near-lightlessness exists invitingly above. This of course assumes one is still oriented to up and down, which they hopefully are at the outset of their combat swim.
The degree of minimal light that is able to infiltrate the inky waters above the swimmer depends on how much ambient light there is above the water’s surface from sources like the moon, the stars on a clear night, or any harbor lights if one happens to be close to shore. Absent those, the combat swimmer may find himself in complete and total darkness both above and below him.
A combat swimmer is of course expected to embrace that darkness, and harness it for the purposes of clandestinity and undiscovered infiltration. The darkness is the combat swimmer’s friend, as is the water: Combat swimmers are taught to retreat to these twin refuges when things go bad on land. Still, this doesn’t always fully prevent the unbearable weight of that darkness from descending on the combat swimmer, and occasionally instilling in him irrational claustrophobia that is completely at odds with being submerged in a large body of water.
The combat swimmer overcomes that dark-induced creeping panic by focusing on the job. Operating in swim pairs, one of the swimmers will be in charge of keeping the pair on the correct course headings over the length of the infiltration swim (which could be up to an hour or more in duration). The other member of the pair will be the eyes forward, and the keeper of the time or the number of kicks. This count allows the pair to know when to make a turn, or to surface, depending on where they are in their dive profile.
The two swimmers thus retreat fully into their respective mental comfort zones, those places they came to know so well in their training, and to where they have retreated so often when required. In that zone, the swimmers are able to keep pushing forward despite the discomfort, the cold, or the irrational fear of deep sea-dwelling creatures. They will effectively enter a meditative state, where focus on the task at hand, the elapsed time, and the number of kicks becomes the mantra.
Checking their course
At a certain point, the time will arrive for the pair to make a check on the status of the navigation so far by coming to the surface for a peek. From there, they have to make sure they are able to see the landmarks they are supposed to see — and where they are supposed to see them — at that specific point on their course. If they are where they are supposed to be — a lighthouse, for example, a half-mile off and 20 degrees to the right — then great. The pair will resubmerge and finish the last portion of their course. If not, then the navigator must plot an altered final leg. That is never a good feeling because it means they have not been navigating true so far, and the concern is that they will continue that way and end up far off the target. Either way, they must continue on.
At a certain point, hopefully, the pair ends up at the target point. The end of their navigation course. The object at which they have been aimed for the last thousands of meters. Here it is much riskier to take a peek, but they might just do it anyway to ensure they are placing the explosive mine on the right vessel or object. It would be a shame to place it on the wrong one, after all. And naval vessels tend to all look eerily similar from below in the dark water. Once verified, the swim pair attaches the mine, perhaps mumbling indecipherably to each other underwater, arguing about the best placement, or some other point of contention.
A combat swimmer’s reward
The two of them will eventually settle their underwater tiff, despite the complete lack of clarity of the mumbled words being sputtered into the water through the mouthpieces they wear to breathe. They will place the mine, then set off on their return swim. The pressure feels relieved to some degree because the combat swimmers have completed the mission objective, if not the full mission profile. The worst is over. Even if they become lost at sea forever, they have at least accomplished the objective of the attack, and that is something. Really, it is everything.
Once they make that final ascent, and either crawl up onto some friendly shore or link up with a friendly naval vessel for the exfiltration, they feel the weight of that darkness wash off of them like the water that rolls off their wetsuits. It is an elation reserved for those who accomplish a difficult task under pressure, and in an unforgiving environment. Even if it was merely a training exercise, the sense of relief and accomplishment can be felt physically as a surge of adrenaline and the euphoria of a job done well.
They will reset and do it all over again, as required.