The Army’s elite cadre of Combat Divers was no doubt elated when the decision was made in 2004 not only to redesign their qualification badge, but also to change its name from Scuba Diver to Special Operations Diver. With a pair of menacing Sykes-Fairbain Commando knives and two sharks symbolizing the speed and striking power of Combat Divers, the new insignia was considerably more martial in appearance than the old design, which featured a Scuba mask and breathing mouthpiece. And the new title served to reflect Combat Divers’ duties rather than simply identifying a type of gear that, as often as not, is associated with recreational diving as often as it is with military actions.
But for Combat Divers who disliked the blandness of the Scuba Diver designation, there was one bit of solace: They could just as easily have been wearing Laru Diver badges.
The word “scuba” was first used by Dr. Christian Lambertsen in a paper he co-authored in 1952 as an acronym of a description he came up with for a rebreather device he had invented while in college. After the Navy had shown no interest in his “Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus,” which he had invented while attending Medical School at the University of Pennsylvania, Lambertsen arranged a poolside meeting with Office of Strategic Services (OSS) officials at Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. to show off his device.
The OSS took a huge interest in the Lambertsen Amphibious Respirator Unit, or LARU, which enabled trained divers to stay submerged for nearly an hour without leaving a trail of telltale bubbles in their wakes. The agency, which eventually became the CIA, also was quite keen on the inventor: After joining the Army Medical Corps, Lambertsen was recruited into the cloak-and-dagger world of OSS, eventually being awarded the Legion of Merit by OSS General William “Wild Bill” Donovan.
Lambertsen patented his LARU in 1944, and its closed-circuit, bubble-free design made it extremely popular among U.S. military diver forces. And while it’s doubtful that the Army would have decided to use a patented name in the title of an insignia, it would not have been unprecedented. For a short time during World War II, the Navy established the International Business Machine Operator rating, eventually changing the designation to the more generic Punched Card Accounting Operators and Key Punch Operators and Supervisors.

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