Not many people truly get to work in a job they absolutely love. However, one young man from Craig County found his love on a brochure tossed under his bed.
Cody Saunders knew at an early age that he wanted to do something different and get out of Craig County to explore what the world has to offer. The Craig County teenager did just that, and in a big way.
“I wanted to see something different. I didn’t want the average job,” said Saunders. “I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I got to praying about it for a long time. I was looking on Facebook one day. I saw a post and had them to send me a brochure. When it came in, I just stuck it under my bed and said, ‘I’m not ever going to do that.’”
Saunders graduated from high school in May 2018 and said his mother wanted him to get a job. Because he thought he would have to go to tech school or a four-year college, he started working a local job.
“So, I pulled the brochure which had been under my bed for almost three months, and asked God if it was what he wanted to do. Growing up, I always loved swimming in pools, so I applied online to the CDA, Commercial Diving Academy, and they called me,” said Saunders who started school in July 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida.
He learned to dive in the Trout River. “There’s is a lot of water where you can’t even see what is in front of you as it’s almost black,” he said. Saunders added that many alligators, bull sharks, dolphins and manatees would join their swim excursions. “We swam with manatees every day. You can’t see them though; they just bump into you,” he added.
The first time Saunders went into the water, he said, “I was terrified!” That was the first day of Physical Training (PT) when he wore his wet suit, fins and booties, but no helmet or floatation device. There had been strong storms days before.
“That first day of PT was the strongest I’d ever seen a current in the world. The whole time I was there, the current was so bad. Luckily, we didn’t lose anyone,” said Saunders, who mentioned that his class started with 36 but graduated with only 14.
When asked what he did after he jumped in, Saunders responded, “I swam! I didn’t want anything to get me. They had briefed us on the shark they saw the week before we came.”
He shared that if one got touched, 9 out of 10 times it was a manatee, or sea cow.
On his fourth day of school, he got to put on the official diving helmet and equipment and went in the pool. “I felt awesome,” he noted before adding, “We wrestled one another under water.”
When asked how much the suit weighed, referring to the movie, “Men of Honor” starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Saunders explained that their suits don’t weigh nearly as much as what Mark V wore in those days.
“It took two men to put the helmet on the diver, he said. “We watched the movie in dive school. His deep-water training after that was in Ocala Florida, where they had deep water training of 165 feet.”
Saunders graduated on November 14, 2018, and returned home until he found a good job. “I was only home for a couple of days when I got a call from Germany,” he said. Saunders had a prior engagement with another company but chose Germany because of its international company, Aqua Nautic.
“How many people get to go to Germany?” asked the 19-year old Saunders with a huge smile on his face. Currently, his current job is helping to build the new Terminal 3 Airport in Frankfurt, which will be the biggest airport in Germany.
“I lay the concrete for the airport as the groundwater is 3-6 feet underneath the ground. There is another team that goes before us, digs down with a special pump to dig under about 15-feet, placing anchors and rebar which are set 100’ in the ground, sticking up over a meter,” he said. “We break off the filled concrete and make it more level and put anchor plates on the anchors which are 18×18 square and two inches thick, weighing 55 pounds each. We install about 2,000 anchors per pit.”
Saunders further noted that they work under water, having to do all the pumping by hand. They also install all the anchor points and 30-foot fences by hand.
Saunders described his job with such excitement, explaining every step, in specific detail.
“We also install the inlets and outlets in the sea wall. The topside lowers the things down to us from a big pontoon or a boat. We have two-inch bolts with a butterfly nut. We normally take a welding rod and turn it up to 400 amps and burn one hole at a time,” he said. I like burning with a special rod that’s a 14” rod about the size of a nickel with a hole in the middle of it. Outside of it are all these little steel rods and one is orange, which is a magnesium rod. When you light that thing, it burns at 10,000 degrees, and it can shoot up to 10 feet of flame. With one rod, you could probably cut a truck in half. We cut through two-inch steel with it.”
Saunders has learned much in the Germany language as the crane workers there do not speak English. Several of his co-workers graduated from Jacksonville. When a new guy comes in, they take him to see the medieval Frankenstein Castle.
It’s what we do for fun. We’ve toured a few castles. It’s my favorite as it was the first one that I ever went in. There are a spiral staircase, gates and a wall around it, but at the front of it, there is a rock pillar with no back to it. It has wooden stairs that go up it, right at the gate, he said. “It still has me puzzled. Also, the Heidelberg Castle is huge.” Saunders also got a picture next to a wine barrel that was 30’ tall.
When asked about doing any hunting as he did in Craig, he shared that the license is a mere $3,000.
Saunders shared that “everybody” was very supportive of him going to Germany. “Mom was very supportive. Steve Charlton really helped me a lot as he pushed me to do what I wanted and follow my dreams. And look where it took me,” he said.
Saunders’ mother, Darlene, said, “I love it that he’s happy. Sure, I miss him!” She added with tears that it was going to be difficult when he flew back out. Initially, we thought he would be home in three months, but it seems it’s going to be a lot longer. Still, she added that she faithfully texts and face times him at least once a week.
“I’m trying to give him space. I feel he is safe, and I pray every day for him,” Darlene said who also shared that even at age five, he spoke about going into the Army. She added that she had a dream where she kept telling God that she did not want him to go, but she heard, “I need him there.” Darlene said that if that’s where God wants him to be, that’s where God will protect him.
Cody’s goals now are to “work as much as I can, save as much as possible and just keep doing what I want because I want to retire early…possibly as early as 35.”
He and his buddies are planning a 10-day Christmas excursion to Austria this year. Added Cody, “God has really blessed me.”
In sharing his heart with other teens, he emphasized, “Let your dreams stay dreams. Don’t let anyone talk you out of them or be scared. Life’s going to be scary, but do it anyway! Like when you jump in the water for the first time and it’s pitch black, and the ocean takes all the water out. You got a 10-foot drop, and you’re wearing 36 pounds of weight with a 30 plus pound dive helmet and a 50-pound, and you are going to hit the water hard. Yes, it hurts a little bit, but what do you have to lose? Pain is only temporary.”
Saunders quietly concluded, “Fear is just an illusion. You’re going to be scared at times but looking back I think, ‘What was there for me to really to be scared of?’ Some don’t like the unknown. You don’t know when God is going to call you home in 10 minutes, 10 months or 20 years. So, you have to make the best of it now while you can. Make the most of your today.”