ARABIAN GULF – New members of the AJ Dive Club participate in the confined water dive portion of their open water dive course at The Palms Beach Hotel and Spa outside of Kuwait City. During the confined water dives, the students learn how to breathe under water as well as how to clear water from their masks.

Dive club creates unique opportunities

By Staff Sgt. Jennifer Milnes
35th Infantry Division Public Affairs

CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait – Although Maj. Joey Schmitz’s primary duty is to serve as the deputy division surgeon for the 35th Infantry Division, he has also taken on a second important role at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, a role that found him not long after his arrival last July.

When the 35th Infantry Division arrived in Kuwait, the dive club president learned Schmitz was a dive instructor and comfortable in organizing and leading dives, so he recruited Schmitz to the club. Later, Schmitz was elected as the next club president.

“I started diving after being the deputy commander for the 7th Civil Support Team in the Missouri National Guard,” Schmitz said.

A member of the AJ Dive Club participates in an open water dive in the Arabian Gulf. The AJ Dive Club was formed in 2016 at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, and allows club members the opportunity to get certified as an open water diver when time and mission allows.

Once he moved out of the 7th CST to a brigade-level position, he decided that instead of wearing a hazmat suit and being surrounded by sarin or anthrax, he wanted to wear a dive mask and be surrounded by water.

“I began taking classes—open water, advanced open water, specialties—I just kept signing up,” said Schmitz. “The owner where I was taking classes said, ‘Joey, if you keep taking classes, you might as well be an instructor and work for me.’”

So he became an instructor, which requires at least 100 dives, certification as a rescue diver and a dive master.

His passion for the water has influenced others in the division as well.

“The opportunity presented itself, as did the time on most Sundays,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Carol Sprawka, 35th Infantry Division targeting technician. “We’re surrounded by water here and my husband got his certification while he was deployed to Djibouti, so it was only fair that I would get mine!”

While it initially began simply as a way to experience Kuwait off post, Sprawka changed her view on why she continued the course.

A member of the AJ Dive Club participates in an underwater painting class in the Arabian Gulf. The AJ Dive Club was formed in 2016 at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, and allows club members the opportunity to get certified as an open water diver when time and mission allows. After certification, students can sign up for additional classes which include underwater painting, underwater photography, and a zombie apocalypse dive course.

“Once we began the open water diving in the Gulf, it became an experience unlike anything words can describe,” continued Sprawka. “It’s a new world that I am now able to enjoy and share with friends. It’s extremely relaxing.”

Although she admits diving on her day off can make for a long Sunday leading back into the work week, she knows that being away from the work environment helps with resiliency.

“It can get a bit tiresome, but my favorite thing about open water diving is being part of a larger, unfamiliar world,” said Sprawka.