Go-getter Bradley Peterson on being a Diver Medic, Exciting Jobs, and Life
“Becoming a Diver Medic was basically a dare.”
Brad Peterson grew up in North Bend OR, a small fishing and logging town at the edge of the Oregon Dunes. He and his friends would ride horses out to the ocean, swim with them and then camp out in the Dunes. There Brad would see divers in coves, exploring the kelp forests. It looked very cool to him. Years later, in the US Infantry during a stint in Germany, Brad finally took his first SCUBA lessons, leading him quickly to an exciting Military diving career.
“With a smirk on his face, my Squad Leader basically dared me: ‘If you don’t quit the Pre-Combat Diver Course, you can attend the Army Special Forces DMT course!’ The Pre-SCUBA course and Combat Diver Qualification course are infamous, and quite arguably the most physically demanding courses in the Military, We started with 16 Ranger and SF Operators, at day two AM formation there stood Me and my Ranger Buddy, all others had dropped from the course. I graduated Pre-SCUBA and went straight to the Special Operations Combat Diver Qualification course (CDQC) two weeks later. Six months later I was in the Special Forces DMT course.”
“I was made to be a healer, and after four years as an Infantryman in the Army, I became a Medic.” After a 21-year career as a Diver Medic with the US Army, Brad then retired as the Senior Medic (NCOIC) of the largest family medicine clinic west of the Mississippi and now instructs Physics & Medicine, Lightweight, Rigging and SCUBA at DIT.
Diving in the 7th Dive Team took Brad down the swift, crystal clear waters of the beautiful Euphrates River in the northwest corner of Iraq the River turns into a filthy cesspools near Fallujah, containing garbage, animal carcasses and sewage… definitely a HAZMAT dive.
What are some of the most challenging aspects of working in underwater medical response?
The biggest challenge is making the right call. It’s just not as easy as bandaging a cut; there are many mechanical injuries that mimic Decompression Sickness (DCS) or Arterial Gas Embolism (AGE) and though a treatment table would not hurt a non DCS/AGE patient, it does expose them to an unnecessary amount of oxygen. Students who have just learned the signs and symptoms of AGE/DCS often incorrectly think that any little pain, numbness or strange feeling after a dive is AGE/DCS, when in fact it is more likely just a sore muscle or tweaked nerve.
We as DMTs have to make these decisions FAST – the longer a bubble-related injury waits for treatment, the worse it gets. With too much time lapsed from insult to treatment, the injury can become permanent. DMTs with up to 30 years of experience still get cases that are very hard to distinguish.
Do you have any tips on how to get ahead in diving or medical response diving?
Learn the basics of diving like you know the freckle on the back of your hand. SCUBA, surface supplied, or breath-hold diving – it does not matter what job you’re doing if you can’t get to the job site safely.
I tell the students a story about when my medic prowess took a turn for the better. As a new Medic I thought I was very good. I had learned all the rules, all the procedures at my level, and had already earned the name, ‘Doc’. Then one day I had a patient go south on me when using the blanket guidance I had learned. After that lesson, when I re-deployed, I hit the books. I took A&P, Pathology, and as many advanced medical courses as I could afford. Learning why your modalities work is more important that just executing a modality. The learning never ends, and one should always try to learn more.
As well as being a Diver Medic, you’ve also been involved in other aspects of diving like salvage, mapping and recovery. What were some of your favorite diving jobs to work on?
The most pride I had in a job was diving in Botwood Bay, Newfoundland. We dove looking for the seaplane Excalibur, which carried Allied personnel to England in 1942 and crashed shortly after take-off. We found it and mapped out the debris field so the Joint Personnel Accounting Command (JPAC) Archaeology/Anthropology team could come in and claim the remains for the families of the lost soldiers and airmen.
The most exciting job would have to be the demolition of a 300-man barracks on Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Isles. We were the first Army team to ever demo a building with med velocity dynamite on a controlled implosion. Also helping the Iraqis, breaking up huge bridge sections into smaller pieces with shape charges so their cranes could remove them to repair the AL-Sarafiya Bridge. I definitely LOVE the DEMO! I have also recently found a great love for cutting with Broco.
You currently work with DIT in Washington and are from Oregon. What’s diving like in such cold waters when you’ve dived in places like the Euphrates River, at 70 F, and in the Persian Gulf, where the water is 107 on the surface?
Diving in the Pacific Northwest is great. Yes, the water is cold, yes, the visibility is sometimes 0, but there really is a ton of cool stuff to see and do here (let’s keep that secret to ourselves, hey!); it’s just not what most people think of when they think SCUBA Diving. Coming face-to-face with a Giant Pacific Octopus is an incredible experience, and they ONLY live here. I advise my Students that “the GPO KNOWS what your regulator and mask are for, and if you anger them, they will take them from you!” There is so much food in the Sound in and Ocean to collect, it really is a smorgasbord. Kelp beds are very cool dives, there is so much life in them, just like a land forest. I have played fetch with an otter and a small ‘peanut’ buoy; he hung out for about 10 minutes and played with me.
What do you enjoy about working at DIT?
DIT is a pretty great place to work. I can apply three of my favorite skills; diving, medicine and teaching. DIT also allows us to go on runs (short work trips to diving companies) to keep up our old skills and learn some new ones. In an industry that is evolving every day this is very important for us, as well as for our students. If I just stayed here and taught basic diving for ten years, there would be a ton of new technologies I would miss, new tools that I would never otherwise get to put my hands on, or simply new techniques for an old problem that I would never see.
Finally, what’s your life philosophy?
Balance the beaver with the otter, the grasshopper with the ant. Don’t lean heavy left or heavy right cause most happiness is found somewhere in the middle. JMHO.
And this poem:
All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten
-By Robert Fulghum
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life.
Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
Written for DIT by Londi Gamedze