By Sarah Pacheco, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Public AffairsAugust 15, 2013
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii -- Surfing Hawaii's ocean waters or gliding over the glassy Pacific in a canoe are both exhilarating experiences unique to living on an island, but sometimes, a person wants to explore what lies beneath.
Scuba diving is an adventure worth trying at least once while stationed in Hawaii. The oceans surrounding the islands are teeming with tropical marine specimens, many found nowhere else on Earth.
Beginners can venture out with a scuba tour led by professional dive instructors, but for the more-advanced waterman, a dive certification card, or C-card, opens up a sea of new possibilities.
Recently, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii's Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation's Outdoor Recreation Center teamed up with Island Divers Hawaii to offer Soldiers the opportunity to earn open-water certification through a one-week course, here.
Certification is good for life and recognized worldwide, allowing Soldiers the ability to rent dive gear, book dive charters and explore sites and locations no matter where they may be stationed next.
"This program is such a good opportunity for Soldiers, especially because the certification is good for life and allows Soldiers to dive all over the world," said Lauren Smith, Island Divers marketing/customer service director.
Initially, classes were offered every other week; however, due to increasing interest and popularity among the garrison community, Smith said courses now are offered every week, as follows:
•Bookwork and classroom instruction, 6-9 p.m., Monday-Tuesday;
•Pool work, 6-9 p.m., Wednesday-Thursday; and
•Open-water dives, two dives each day, Saturday-Sunday.
"We scheduled classes so Soldiers can do their jobs in the day, then come to the classes in the evenings," Smith explained. "Then, on weekends, there are dives at Electric Beach, Shark's Cove … really, it's up to the instructor, as there's so much great shore diving on Oahu."
Instruction is led at the dive center, located in the Outdoor Rec building, here, and then progresses to in the Helemano Military Reservation pool, so students can test out their newly acquired skills.
"The pool is really one of the most fun parts, because everyone gets all suited up in their gear. They have no idea what to expect; they hop in the water and take that first breath and realize, 'Oh my gosh, this is so cool. I can breathe underwater!'" said instructor Michael Kurt.
"When they get out to the ocean, it's a little different, but then at the end of that you see them have that 'aha moment,'" Kurt continued. "That's the coolest part about the open-water course -- going from 'I can barely swim' to 'I'm a scuba diver now.'"
Once Soldiers complete the open-water course and obtain certification -- which allows them to dive up to a depth of 60 feet, with a buddy -- they are eligible to work their way up toward advanced certification, in which they will be able to get down even deeper, up to 132 feet, with a buddy.
"I love the chance to actually go to the depth in the water where the creatures are and the ability to stay right there, just a few feet away from them, and watch them go about their lives," said Rebecca Sisk, who graduated both the open-water and advanced courses with her dive partner/husband Sgt. Brian Balduff, 2nd Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.
"We went through both programs together, every step of the way," Sisk added, noting that people should never dive alone.
"You always have somebody right there beside you to help you, should anything go wrong, so it's an ideal arrangement for a husband and wife, or boyfriend and girlfriend, to go through the program together, because then you always have your partner there, and you can continue to do the recreational dives together," Sisk explained.
Those interested in continuing their scuba education can even enroll in the Hawaii Scuba University, with the option to become a divemaster or a professional dive instructor.
"I was in the inaugural class of Hawaii Scuba University," said Kurt, who was able to use a portion of his wife's post-911 GI Bill to become the first instructor to graduate from the program.
"The HSU program is amazing. It benefits spouses and active duty members alike, depending on how the sponsor divvies up the benefits," Kurt explained. "I do plan on going significantly further to become a technical diving instructor, where we can go even deeper. That would be way cool!"
Island Divers and Outdoor Rec also have partnered with Army Community Service to bring certified volunteer opportunities to dive professionals, here.
"Soldiers who are certified divemasters or dive instructors can earn promotion points and a medal and ribbon by volunteering at different shore diving sites around Oahu on the weekends," Smith said.
ACS requires volunteers to attend a training session before they can qualify for the program; Outdoor Rec and Island Divers have training requirements participants must pass before leading any individual site dives, as well.
"It's a long program, but the good part is you can decide how much time, and money, you want to invest in it," said Balduff.
"Hawaii is a beautiful chain of islands, and each island has different life on it. They are nowhere identical in terms of the kind of life you will find in the ocean," Kurt added. "Even if someone TDYs or PCSs (goes on temporary duty or permanent change of station) from here and goes somewhere else, scuba is a lifetime certification, so it's an activity you can do no matter where you go in the world."
"It's just a truly fascinating experience," Sisk agreed. "The longer you look at marine life, the more life you realize is there, and that's something you can't get any other way but scuba. It's only with recreational scuba diving that you can really be a part of the marine life community."
Hawaii Scuba University is the professional education division of Island Divers Hawaii and provides professional scuba diving certification through the world's leading professional scuba diving certification organization, PADI.
Students can achieve the following certifications:
•Divemaster (Professional Level One);
•Assistant instructor (Professional Level Two);
•Open-water scuba instructor (Professional Level Three);
•Master scuba diver trainer (Professional Level Four); and
•Instructor Development Course (IDC) staff/master instructor (Professional Level Five).
Veterans and active service military personnel may use their VA benefits or GI Bill to become a PADI instructor. Additionally, all scuba courses and diving certification levels are available by using VA benefits or the GI Bill. For more information, contact registrar Jeremy Ossman at registrar@lhawaiiscuba university.com.
Island Divers Hawaii
Island Divers Hawaii has three locations on Oahu, including on Schofield Barracks, 435 Ulrich Way, Bldg. 2110. For more information, call (808) 423-8222 or visit www.oahuscubadiving.com.