After completing the rigorous and highly competitive Combat Diver Qualification Course, Robert Cornell, a junior civil engineering major and member of Drexel’s ROTC, graduated from the seven-week program July 19.
Cornell traveled to the Special Forces Underwater Operations School in Key West, Fla., May 29 to complete the CDQC, which specializes in teaching students surface and subsurface waterborne infiltration methods.
Of the 79 cadets that started out, only 32 graduated.
“The first night [Sunday] they told us that only 60 of us would make it to Wednesday,” Cornell said. “So it sort of got in your head a little bit. They were pushing us right away.”
It was only the second day when Cornell was taken in a boat 500 meters offshore and told to swim back to land before the tide came in. Some of the other training that cadets needed to pass to complete the course included boat and watercraft training, navigational diving, buddy breathing and tactical swims in full gear and equipment, and a final practical application by conducting a 48-hour field training exercise.
“One of the hardest tests we did was when they took your regulator with your air and tear it out of your mouth so they could tie it in knots,” Cornell said. “You’d have to stay calm and able to trace your regulator and untie it, get it into your mouth for a breath of air before they would take it and tie it back up again. Pretty much during the entire 20-minute test you’re on the verge of hypoxia, which is a lack of oxygen causing you to black out. It was pretty excruciating.”
Cornell had applied to take the course in 2010 but was not selected. After reapplying this year, he joined 23 other ROTC cadets to participate in the CDQC alongside students from West Point and Special Forces soldiers. Only four of the cadets made it to graduation.
“Every day I’d just think ‘I gotta make it to breakfast, make it to lunch, make it to another meal,’ because that’s really the only time that you’re a little bit relaxed,” Cornell said.
Lt. Col. Maura A. Gillen, professor of military science at Drexel, gave Cornell a recommendation for the CDQC. Cornell managed to send Gillen updates after the first week, keeping her posted the whole time with details of his training.
“He also found time to send notes of encouragement to other cadets who were attending the Leader Development and Assessment Course at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington [state],” Gillen said. “I don’t know where he gets his energy, but he seems to feed off challenge, and I really believe Cadet Cornell is one of the best of the Army’s future platoon leaders.”
Cornell decided to apply for the course partially because of his love for the water.
“I’ve always been around the water. I’ve always liked to scuba dive. I’ve always been an ocean person,” Cornell said. “It really seemed to fit my strengths pretty well and I thought it might be a good thing to try. … I know now that I am capable of being a leader no matter what I do.”
Although Cornell hasn’t completely decided yet what exactly he wants to do later, he will certainly have more options open to him as a result of completing the CDQC.