MARINE CORPS AIR STATION KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii -- When someone thinks about Hawaii, they think thoughts of crystal clear water, great food and all-around beautiful scenery. It’s where people go to vacation, and it’s a dream duty station for military service members.
There are many activities for service members to take advantage of while stationed in Hawaii. Members of various military units from Marine Aircraft Group 24, a Marine Corps aviation unit based at Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, spend their free time diving off Hawaii’s coast with MAG 24 Dive Group.
“Meeting with Gunnery Sgt. Jesse Reed in January 2016, we were having a conversation that we should start a dive group because we have so many people here that are divers,” said Danielle L. Sodergren, III Marine Expeditionary Force Embedded Prevention Specialist and MAG 24 Dive Group Coordinator. “We thought this would be a great way to have weekend events that were alcohol-free and provided family-friendly fun.”
Sodergren worked with dive masters Jason Fritz and Staff Sgt. Larry Griffin to form a Facebook group to coordinate monthly dives. From there, various personnel worked to get dive-certified and the group began.
“So far we have 60 members to include military personnel, DOD workers, and family members that belong to MAG 24,” said Sodergren. “We actively hold classes through our dive masters and local dive shops to train and certify new divers every other month. We work with them to offer specialty classes and advancement certifications as well. Even children from age 12 and up can get certified, so it really is a family event!”
The group meets to dive one to three times per month. This past Memorial Day, the group went on two dives in honor of fallen Marines.
“It was a good time, and I was glad that I could make it to honor our fallen Marines, especially my friend Sgt. Semolina, whom I had shared the experience of recruit training with,” said Sgt. Timothy A. Chancy, a MAG 24 Dive Group member. “Our first dive was at the Sea Tiger wreck off the coast of Honolulu, between 100 and 120 feet deep, depending on what part of the wreck you're exploring at a given time.”
Once surfaced, the group got back on the boat and headed over to another site called Nautilus, which is a shallow reef dive 40 feet under.
“We all swam around and checked out the coral and fish for about 45 minutes,” said Chancy. “On that dive, when we approached the coral, we saw a few white tip reef sharks darting in and out of the coral, and ten minutes later, I came so close to one resting beneath a coral shelf that I could nearly touch it. As docile as they are, I wasn't going to risk petting it, however.”
As with other recreational activities, the group has helped to build bonds between its members. Their Facebook page works with other units to set up similar groups and invite them on group dives.
“It's a great opportunity for those who haven't tried it to get their certifications and explore the wonderful aquatic scenery that you sometimes would never get the chance to experience with just a snorkel or if you're originally from a landlocked area,” said Chancy. “It gives all of us a chance to meet new people within the group who aren't in our company or squadron, as well as take the rank off for a while and simply have a good time.”