ST. THOMAS, ONT. -- First Class Sailor Jeff Haskins has now joined the brotherhood of Canada's naval diving elite.

The St. Thomas, Ont. native, now living in Halifax, NS, has graduated and become a member of the Fleet Diving Unit (FDU) of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN).

"A Navy Clearance Diver handles EODs (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) on land and underwater, mostly doing mine clearing measures," says Haskins, who is currently quarantining in Halifax.

He will now not only be blowing stuff up for a living, but will be part of the engineering department that will work to repair damage to ships.

"The main thing clearance divers are called into do right now is called Operation Open Spirit," explains Haskins. "They go to the Baltic Sea and dispose of World War II mines left there from the Germans. We find these old sea mines and dispose of them properly. We are also ready and trained in case there is a threat in Canada."

Surface Supplied Breathing Apparatus
SSBA (Surface Supplied Breathing Apparatus) is used by Royal Canadian Navy Clearance Divers to dive down to 300 feet. (Source: Jeff Haskins)

Haskins was one of 120 Canadians nationwide who tried out for Clearance Diver Training.

"I wanted to work with the best that Canada has to offer," says Haskins, who graduated as top QL5A student, which is a combination of academic and team award.

"I've reached the top level that Canadian Forces has to offer when it comes to diving."

Sailor First Class Jeff Haskins
Sailor First Class Jeff Haskins, second from left, receives his QL5A Top Student Award, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. (Source: Fleet Diving Unit/Facebook)

Haskins is following in the footsteps of his great grandfather, Petty Officer Walter Gould.

Gould joined HMCS Prevost in London, Ont. in 1942 as a shipwright and did the Trans-Atlantic Crossing.

Sixty-nine years later, Haskins got his start in the same place.

While his friends at St. Joseph's High School in St. Thomas were taking part-time jobs, Haskins decided to join the military. He started at HMCS Prevost as a cook.

"From the beginning it was clear he was destined for things," says Acting Sub-Lieutenant Mara Pritchard, public affairs officer for HMCS Prevost.

"He joined saying he was going to be a diver, he was going to join the regular force. The exciting part is to see people take their dreams and make them a reality. It's great now to tell people who are just joining, that Prevost can help you foster your naval career."

Achieving this rank at 26 years old is atypical, especially considering he switched trades a few times, doing five selections and a 16-month course.

He was named Sailor of the Year in 2018 along the way, but isn't done setting goals.

"I'm doing university part-time right now," says Haskins. "I want to become a medical officer in the Canadian military specializing in diving medicine."

In the meantime, he's thrilled to have received his 'Dolphins' badge as a member of the Clearance Diving Team which he says "makes life a lot easier."

Until the next chapter, he'll just enjoy what many people would love to do...blow stuff up underwater.

"It’s a lot of fun that's for sure," says Haskins.

Kris Heywood of London, Ont. also graduated Friday. He was given the academic award.