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Face of Defense: Guardsman Reflects on Dive Team’s Legacy

By Army Capt. Maria Mengrone, 176th Engineer Brigade

GALVESTON, Texas, June 17, 2016 — A year has passed since Staff Sgt. Shawn G. Dagley of the Texas Army National Guard’s 627th Dive Detachment, 386th Engineer Battalion, 176th Engineer Brigade, donned his dive gear for the final time and took a plunge with his soldiers into the shark tanks at the Moody Gardens Aquarium here to conduct an underwater casing-of-the-colors ceremony marking the end of the unit.

“While we were operating, we conducted 500 to 600 successful dives with zero incidents or injury,” Dagley said. “We stayed proficient and put divers in the water every opportunity we had.”

The dive team was activated in 2007 as part of a reorganization engineer forces. During the dive team’s eight years of service, the unit fostered working relationships with various agencies in providing defense support to civil authorities.

“We worked with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Department of Public Safety, FBI and active-duty Coast Guard divers,” said Army 1st Lt. Roman M. Jansky, outgoing dive detachment commander. “Dagley reached out to these agencies and allowed us to be on call to assist in counterdrug operations while deterring human trafficking and conducting searches of ship hulls.”

Dive School Challenges

Although the unit was small -- it had about 20 soldiers -- Dagley’s experience helped to improve the skills the team needed to meet the challenges of the U.S. Army Combat Dive School.

“Standing up the unit was our mission, and figuring out how we were going to evaluate, recruit and build up stamina to make it through the Army dive school was tough,” said Army Maj. James M. Proctor, former commander of the detachment. “When Staff Sergeant Dagley came along, he helped us crack the code on how to get our soldiers through Phase 1 and Phase 2 of dive school.”

To become engineer divers, soldiers must go through the first phase, a three-week course, before moving on to Phase 2, a rigorous 26-week course.

Dagley, a former 11-year Navy diver, implemented the red, white and blue phase to the unit’s evaluation of the Diver Physical Fitness Test to help prepare guardsmen for dive school. The test consists of a 500-yard swim in 14 minutes, 42 push-ups in two minutes, 50 sit-ups in two minutes, 6 pull-ups, and a 1.5 mile run in 12 minutes or less.

“It was a new perspective that Dagley brought to break up the training into phases,” Procter said. “He made it so that soldiers passed their test at the blue phase, which was passing all events at 20 percent over the standard. This made all the difference for us.”

Program’s Legacy Lives On

Although the program has ended, guardsmen will not forget the experience and values gained from Dagely during his eight years as the instructor.

“Staff Sergeant Dagley was the heart and soul of the unit. He was the one consistent thing that held the unit together,” said Army Capt. Jacob A. Patterson, former detachment commander. “I was sad, because we worked so hard, and to see that capability go away was hard. But, at the same time, I’m proud to see the growth from where we started to where we ended with this unit.”

Dagley shared his respect and love for diving with his family and carried his passion for the dive team beyond work.

“We even named our son Gage, after the instrument divers use to measure pressure, since I knew he loved diving so much,” said Dagley’s wife, Kelly. “When my husband found out about the unit [being disbanded], he was devastated. He wished it wasn’t going away. These dive guys will always be in our lives. They’re like family to us. He still thinks he could have done more to keep the unit going.”

The 627th was the National Guard’s first team of divers.

“The Texas Army National Guard accomplished something with us,” Dagley said. “We were an engineer asset doing real-world missions. It hurt me to see the unit disband, because we did everything we could to become a fully deployable unit. I will miss it.”
Distribution channels: Military