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Imagine a world filled with schools of fish, sea turtles, sharks, coral reefs and other amazing sights around you. It is a breathtaking and absolute change from walking on shore. Instead of wondering what lives in the ocean, you are in the ocean, among these creatures. How can you visit this wondrous place in person? By learning how to scuba dive with the Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) program at Naval Support Activity Bethesda (NSAB).

“After my initial training in 1979, the first time I got to really scuba dive was down in Key West,” said Joe Lodmell, MWR scuba instructor at NSAB. “To jump in the water, and see the schools of fish in every imaginable color was incredible! We spent 45 minutes swimming between the coral heads, [and I was] absolutely amazed at the color and variety of sea life. There were lobsters, nurse sharks, anemones and all kinds of critters [in the ocean]!”

That enthusiasm for diving inspired Bryan Jackson, NSAB MWR aquatic fitness manager and fitness trainer, to ask Lodmell to be an MWR scuba instructor. Jackson described Lodmell as a ‘dive master’ since “he’s been teaching scuba for 15 years.”

Jackson said he wanted an instructor who would teach a longer course for three weeks instead of weekend courses, off base.

“All the classes off base were weekend classes,” said Jackson. “The instructors sent the students books for the course and they studied all week. On Saturday, the students showed up to do classroom [work] for eight hours. Then, on Sunday, they went to the pool for eight hours and they’re done. That was it.”

“I didn’t learn that way and I have never been a fan of that way of teaching,” Jackson explained. “I mean, that’s not really my idea of learning. When Joe came in to teach the class, people just loved it,” said Jackson, smiling. “I said to Joe, ‘As long as you are willing to teach here, let’s continue [scuba courses].’”

For the past three years, Lodmell has taught scuba diving at NSAB for active duty, dependents, Department of Defense employees and contractors every Tuesday and Thursday evening starting at 6 p.m. Students hear about the course through Jackson, MWR events or emails.

“I got information from him,” said Air Force 2nd Lt. Logan Clemons, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU), pointing to Army 2nd Lt. Dean Miller, who was with Clemons. “We are getting stationed in Hawaii.”

“That’s how I found out about this course, too,” said Air Force 2nd Lt. Armando Aguilera, USU student. “I’m also getting stationed in Hawaii. I thought this would be a good time to learn scuba before I go.” Aguilera and Miller agreed.

While in class, students ask questions about assigned reading or the scuba experience. Lodmell even reviews information not covered in the book.

“You go down to Hawaii and you sign up with a scuba shop and you want to go on a dive trip,” said Lodmell. “You ask yourself, ‘What’s my experience going to be like? What should I think about when I go on my first dive trip? How should I prepare? What should I pack?’”

Lodwell added that students and instructors often discus these questions and other necessities for a dive trip. He emphasized that divers should be rested, nourished and hydrated before going on a dive trip. Divers should also be aware of sea sickness because a boat ride to some dive spots could take a couple of hours.

“Once we’re done with class time, we go to the pool and do the real stuff,” said Lodmell. “The first week of class is for swim evaluation and some snorkeling skills. After that, students move right into scuba: tanks, regulators, buoyancy compensator and all the way through.”

Before the students dive into the water, each person checks their gear several times. Then, students and instructors check each other’s gear. One by one, they step off the diving board and dive into the pool. They surface and face the instructors standing on the deck. As each diver takes one arm to form a half circle in order to place their fingertips on the crown, they signal that they’re okay and submerge deeper into the water. Finally, the instructors join them in the water. They have joined the ranks of scuba divers worldwide.

“Being a scuba instructor is fantastic!” said Lodmell. “I tell my students on the first night about how excited I am for them, because they still get to see their first sea turtle! They still get to see their first shark! How exciting is that? I love to share those firsts with my students.”

According to Jackson, scuba diving can change your life as well as your travel plans. It is not just another hobby; rather, it becomes a lifestyle.

“When you become scuba certified, every vacation after that becomes a dive vacation,” said Jackson. “You realize you spent the time, the effort [and] the money to have the equipment. Now you get to explore this new world and you want to take advantage of it as much as you can.”

For more information about MWR scuba courses, contact Bryan Jackson at Bryan.jackson2@med.navy.mil.