Ten Fort Irwin Soldiers earned their Open Water National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI) Scuba Certification Sept. 22-24 at Laguna Beach, Calif.
The certification, through the installation’s Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS) Life Skills Scuba Open Water certification program, spanned three weeks and featured a comprehensive curriculum encompassing eLearning modules, a day of confined water training in a pool, and two days of open water diving at Shaw’s Cove in Laguna Beach, according to Capt. Olivia Schretzman, an observer, coach/trainer (OC/T) with Operations Group, National Training Center, and the lead trainer for the event.
Schretzman, a Philadelphia, Penn., native, has been diving for over a decade and commanded a U.S. Army Deep Sea Dive Company, helped spearhead hyperbaric treatments for the Department of Defense and U.S. Special Operations Command, and is a NAUI and Deep End Fitness Instructor, she said.
“[We] built a strong team of professionals to help enable a successful weekend with over 35 years of dive experience,” she said.
Her team included Logan Lundell, a Gold Star family member and NAUI divemaster, Capt. Scott Cooley, a U.S. Army Combat Diver Qualification Course qualified and NAUI master diver, and Capt. Stephanie Gower, a professional Association of Diving Instructors rescue diver and OC/T with Operations Group, NTC.
“Our team is incredibly passionate about teaching and sharing their knowledge of the ocean,” Schretzman said. “Diving isn’t just a hobby; it’s a journey that offers stress relief, weightlessness, and the opportunity to explore a world like no other.”
Spec. Samuel Cross, an indirect fire infantryman with Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, participated in the certification and said the Army provides a very unique workplace environment.
“Our [operating tempo] at Fort Irwin is so high, but there are opportunities like this where you can go out and go on adventures with people who know what they’re doing,” Cross said. “They connect you with the experts and professionals in those fields and they give you opportunities to grow and learn from them.”
Cross said he especially appreciated the eLearning modules.
“It was really awesome to learn about the science behind diving and all the things that happen to your body while you dive and the techniques and stuff you need,” Cross, a Fresno, Calif., native, said.
Cross and other Fort Irwin Soldiers received hands-on training with diving gear at the Oasis Pool, here, from Schretzman and her team before taking the certification in the ocean.
First Lt. Isaac McCurdy, a platoon leader with E Troop, 2nd Sqdn., 11th Armored Cav. Regt., also participated in the certification and said the training in the pool ensured the Soldiers felt confident with their individual skills in a controlled environment.
“They made sure we were all trained on what we were supposed to do in any kind of situation, whether it was our air going out, losing our mouthpiece, getting disoriented, [or] losing our buddy in the pool, so we knew what to do if we went to the water and one of those things happened,” McCurdy said. “When we were in the ocean, they actually had a whole bunch of safety measures that worked really fantastically.”
Schretzman and her team did a great job planning and executing the event, McCurdy, a Sterling, Va., native, said.
“Diving is an inherently risky activity and at no time did we really face any danger at all,” McCurdy said. “They did a fantastic job of teaching us how to mitigate risk and making an inherently risky activity quite challenging, fun and safe at the same time.”
Cross agreed that the trainers provided a good level of precautions and safety measures, so he never felt like he was in harm’s way, he said.
“There were challenging moments, but those moments made me a better diver and it made me more confident in the water,” Cross said. “I think they did an excellent job of putting us in situations to challenge us to grow while still maintaining a high standard of safety where everyone was able to grow and develop at their own pace.”
BOSS activities give Soldiers at Fort Irwin something to look forward to, McCurdy said.
“Having something really cool to look forward to on weekends really helps us get through some of the rougher times [in the rotations],” McCurdy said. “It’s a fun way to add some intention and structure to some of your weekends without making it exhausting.”
McCurdy said BOSS and the Army providing opportunities and paying for them is beneficial to the quality of life Fort Irwin Soldiers.
“These guys have so much responsibility and so much work is put on them,” McCurdy said. “It’s really cool to see that rewarded in ways like this where they get to have experiences …that they wouldn’t have been able to have, especially when they’re putting so much on the line to serve this country.”
Cross said he would love to see more people get involved in the diving program so those who are qualified could plan additional trips.
“I probably wouldn’t have ever pursued something like this,” Cross said. “Scuba diving wasn’t quite on my radar, but I’m so glad I had the opportunity to do it and I would definitely go out there and do it again.”
Cross said BOSS events can create a sense of community that is important for mental health.
“Communities that are connected are going to prevent suicides,” Cross said. “The more people who participate in these events, it’s going to create a stronger bond and the community aspect is going to be there for everyone and make you feel like part of something bigger than yourself, which you should feel in the Army.”
Community is one of the aspects McCurdy said he appreciated about BOSS events.
“I already have a good group of friends here, but I’ve met some other fantastic guys here during this trip that I really enjoy spending time with,” McCurdy said.
BOSS life skills events give Soldiers the opportunity to learn about skills that might be outside their comfort zone, McCurdy said.
“You can get caught up in your niche in the Army and forget that there’s a whole world of skills both inside and outside the Army that are worth mastering even if it’s just for the sake of being able to enjoy them,” McCurdy said.
For Schretzman, the program brings together her deepest passions: teaching, supporting the troops, and building newfound confidence through diving, she said.
“It’s our way of giving back and offering you a life-enriching experience beneath the waves,” Schretzman said. “Together, we’re embarking on a journey of discovery, empowerment, and newfound self-assuredness through the captivating world of scuba diving.”
The journey is far from over, according to Schretzman.
“Plans are in motion to conduct more dive programs in the coming year, with the goal of certifying additional Soldiers,” Schretzman said. “The invitation is extended to anyone interested in joining the growing community of dive enthusiasts and exploring the captivating underwater world.”
The event underscored the commitment to equipping Soldiers with valuable life skills, immersing them in the wonders of diving, and fostering unity and personal growth that transcends their military service, Schretzman said.
“Fort Irwin’s Soldiers have dived into new adventures, and the horizon is boundless,” she said.
Soldiers interested in future scuba certifications can contact their unit BOSS representatives or visit the Warrior Zone for more information.