FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (Aug. 24, 2012) -- Only three of 13 Soldiers will graduate from the 12D Army Diver Phase I course, Aug. 31.

The graduates will continue training in Panama City, Fla., at the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center, where they will become part of a small and elite group of Soldiers -- U.S. Army Deep Sea Divers.

Staff Sgt. David Gills, Army Diver Phase I chief instructor, said the Phase I course taught at Fort Leonard Wood prepares future Army Divers for Phase II, which is a 26-week course.

"The stuff we do over our three weeks, Phase II does in three days, so if they aren't ready for Panama City, they get down there and they boot them right out," Gills said. "They have to pass the (Diver Physical Fitness Test) when they get down there. They have three chances to pass it here, so we are getting them ready for the first week in Panama City."

For Soldiers to become a 12D, they must first attend 10 weeks of Basic Combat Training and the Army Diver Phase I course. The grueling 14-day Phase I course was spent learning the basics of diving physics, gas laws, basic medicine and anatomy as well as charting basic dives in the classroom.

Each afternoon was spent at the Davidson Fitness Center pool learning to communicate with hand and line pull signals as well as breath holding drills. Additionally, students work up to treading water with weights and fins during physical training to help their endurance.

"We cover a wide variety of stuff, (but) it's all introduction stuff -- none of it is really in depth," Gills said.

However, everything the Soldiers learn during Phase I will give them a good base for when they get to Phase II, Gills said.

"Each of the subjects that it takes us one day to teach, they spend at least a week or two on and sometimes longer down in Panama City," Gills said. "By the time they get down there they have already seen it at least and have a general understanding."

The first three days of the course are the most intense, according to Gills, and each day prior to training, students have to swim a 1,000 yard bay swim, which is 19 pool laps on their back.

"We have a very set and specific timeline during the first three days to put the students under stress to see if they have what it takes to continue," he said. "But, we also build their confidence with drills like walking with weights on the bottom to breath hold training, and we teach them the correct way to do the exercise if they are not doing it right. We instruct them on how they can get better so when the test comes, they can pass."

During the second week, Soldiers are tested by the instructors with what are called light, medium and hard hits, a series of distractions that range anywhere from their diving gear being pulled off them underwater to clearing their masks as they tread water and the instructors spray water in their faces.

The training simulates what it might be like for the future divers in treacherous waters.

"Everything we do here has a purpose, and will save their lives," Gills said. "Mother nature is not going to stop splashing you in the face."

Staff Sgt. Robert Wieder, 12D Army Diver Phase I platoon sergeant, said Soldiers must remain calm while having their gear removed by an instructor during the underwater problem solving portion of the training.

"Once the gear has been removed the Soldier must calmly retrieve his or her gear, place the gear back on and ascend to the surface," Wieder said. "On the surface the diver takes three breaths through their snorkel, looks up at the instructor and gives the 'OK' sign. If the Soldier has remained calm, followed all instructions, and the dive mask is clear of water, the Soldier receives a 'Go' for that iteration."

Pvt. Christopher Miller has been a holdover since June. He passed the Phase I course, but there were not enough slots open in Phase II for him to go to Panama City once he graduated. However, he will go with the three graduates from this Phase I class to Panama City in October.

Already a certified recreational diver, Miller decided he wanted to be an Army Diver because he heard it was one of the hardest Military Occupational Specialties, and he wanted a challenge.

"The benefits and rewards are countless," he said. "There were some days where I kind of thought to myself, 'what are you doing?,' but then I would just think about being an Army Diver. I want to be one of the few that can say they are an Army Diver, and that would instantly re-motivate me."

Miller said he was anxious to move on to Phase II, so he could "start using Scuba (gear), surface supplied systems and get in the water and do some diving."