JULY 26, 2017, JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – For some, scuba diving is a hobby. For others, it offers a sense of community among other divers. For retired Army 1st Sgt. Mike Nebel, it’s a way of life.
“It just took over my life, this is all I do now,” said Nebel, a dive instructor at the Northwest Adventure Center Scuba Shop at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
It was the offer from his former commander of the 57th Transportation Battalion that got him started. Nebel said his commander had recently started scuba and loved it so much that he offered his unit the opportunity to attend classes on JBLM during physical fitness training. Nebel, who was closing in on civilian life in 2002, took advantage of the offer.
While the hobby would eventually become a profession, he said his initial experience with the wintry waters of the Puget Sound almost ended any interest in scuba diving for him.
“Honestly, I loved the pool, I loved the classroom and I did great in there,” Nebel said. “But, the first day in the open water I hated it. My mask wasn’t working, my gear didn’t quite fit right, it was February, and it was sleet, raining sideways, cold and just not fun.”
His second open water experience was completely different. His instructor invited him on a dive in British Columbia, Canada.
“By then I had bought a mask that fit and that made all the difference in the world,” said Nebel. “Up there, the visibility was beautiful. The sun was shining. There was so much (ocean) life. I got hooked.”
Nebel said by the time he retired, he had completed over 200 dives and had taken all the required diving classes to become a certified instructor by December 2003.
Nebel said for most of his life, all of his friends were military, which he attributes to coming from a Marine household and serving in the Army for 24 years. These days, he said, everyone he knows is a diver. Nebel said people in the dive community come from all walks of life, from plumbers to military generals.
Like Nebel, assistant instructor John Gemin started diving as a hobby just before retiring from the Army.
Gemin said he enjoys diving so much he volunteers his time to help out with the open water classes.
Gemin, who deals with post-traumatic stress disorder brought on from a combat deployment, said diving has become more than a hobby. It’s a therapeutic way to tune out the world above.
“Since I started diving, I absolutely love it,” Gemin said. “For me, scuba diving is a significant part of my personal health management for the PTSD I brought back from combat, because in order to be safe while scuba diving, you have to be calm under the water.”
Gemin said the calm of the water has a residual affect once he gets out.
“I am able to bring that PTSD, that hyperawareness, down and function much better in real life for a significant period of time after I’ve had a chance to go diving,” Gemin said.
The JBLM open water course has room for up to eight people per class. Upon successful completion, participants become Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) certified for up to 60-feet, which is recognized globally. The weeklong class is $240 and includes all materials and equipment needed.
For more information, contact the Northwest Adventure Center at 253-967-8282/7744 or visit the scuba shop online http://jblmmwr.com/nw_adv_scuba.html.
By Sgt. Youtoy Martin