Minneapolis native diver returns home to help recovery efforts

By Senior Chief Petty Officer Dave Nagle Navy Expeditionary Combat Command Public Affairs

PRINT  |  E-MAIL

MINNEAPOLIS -- When local native Electrician’s Mate 1st Class (SS/DV) John Miller heard the news and saw the images of the I-35W bridge collapse here Aug. 1, he knew he needed to go and help.

Miller, who is from Monticello, a small city about 35 miles north of here, is a nuclear electrician and diving leading petty officer aboard the Los Angeles class fast attack submarine USS Norfolk (SSN 714).  He has been part of a team of divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 (MDSU-2) from Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, supporting search and recovery efforts at the bridge collapse site since Aug. 6.

Miller had just returned from being underway aboard Norfolk and learned about the bridge collapse from his father.

“I called my dad and he said the I-35 bridge had collapsed, so I went online and saw some of the pictures and news from the scene,” he recalled.  “It was one of those things that felt crazy – I must have driven over that bridge a million times.  You’re in the Navy away from home and there’s nothing you can do.  You feel helpless.”

A few days later, Miller learned that Navy divers would head to Minneapolis to help with search and recovery efforts.  Miller then knew he needed to come home and help.

“I called around and learned that MDSU-2 was coming to Minneapolis, so I called the XO (executive officer) and told him I wanted to come and help too.”

With MDSU-2’s permission, and the support of his own chain-of-command aboard Norfolk, Miller flew here to join the MDSU team.

While Miller is a qualified SCUBA diver, he is not trained for the surface-supply, “hard-hat” diving MDSU-2 has been conducting at the site.  Nonetheless, that didn’t stop him from jumping in and helping.  He’s been manning the dive station, tending to the divers and their equipment, charting dive times and taking care of the divers in general.

“Petty Officer Miller’s been working extremely hard as part of our team, and what he’s doing is very important supporting the guys going into the water,” said Command Master Chief (MDV) Rosendo Garcia, MDSU 2’s Command Master Chief. 

Miller said that even though he’s not one of the divers actually diving, it still feels good to help.

“Being in the Navy and from Minnesota, I never thought I’d be coming back here to work,” he said.  “This is something that has to be done, though, to help bring closure to the victims’ families.”

The search and recovery efforts have involved a myriad of local, state and federal agencies working together in support of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office.  Miller said the camaraderie among these agencies and their support to the divers has been positive.

Active duty military responders are under the command of the Defense Coordinating Officer, which is assigned to U.S. Army North.  Army North, located at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio. Army North provides Defense Support of Civil Authorities as the Army component of U.S. Northern Command, the unified command headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., that is responsible for homeland defense and civil support. Each DCO, and DCE, is collocated with a FEMA regional headquarters to assist in planning for federal disaster response missions.

“Everyone’s been very helpful, lots of people have come up to say hello and have been really supportive,” he said. “It’s been great.”

Miller will soon return to his duties aboard Norfolk, but his plans include converting to the Navy Diver rating, so he can be a full-time diver.

“Navy divers got called because we’ve got the best uniquely trained divers around,” he said.  “This is one of the few jobs in the Navy that you can’t do anywhere else.”