PADI Master Instructor Honors Lives Lost on USS Emmons in Okinawa


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Photo: Kevin King

Written by PADI Course Director, Kenneth Redifer 

Although “hero” is a strong characterization, especially given the ubiquitous military presence that’s found here on the island of Okinawa, Japan where I am currently residing, there is a PADI dive professional here that is worthy of recognition.

Kevin King, PADI Master Instructor, has been singlehandedly instrumental in the successful implementation of the distinctive specialty USS Emmons Diver. Kevin authored the supporting documents for this specialty, had them approved in late 2015, and started offering this specialty in January of 2016. In the first twelve months it was available, Kevin has certified no less than 44 divers, who, almost to the person, rave about its content and his delivery.

You may not be aware, but Okinawa boasts one of the only US Navy combatants sunk in war, but which remains within recreational scuba diving limits. On the night of April 6/7, 1945, the Emmons was struck by no less than five Japanese kamikazes in less than two minutes. Her fate sealed, the ship was intentionally sunk in the early morning hours, but only after 60 crew-members were either killed or missing.

Photo: Kevin King

Her wreck was lost to the fog of war and dulling effects of time, only to be “rediscovered” by American divers in 2001, when Kevin was stationed on Okinawa as a Naval Flight Officer on active duty with the US Navy.

Kevin returned to Japan again for another tour of duty from 2004-2006, and again visited the wreck of Emmons. But it wasn’t until he retired and returned to Okinawa in 2013 that the idea for this specialty started to take root: a need existed for a comprehensive historic overview of not just the death of a ship and its crew, but of their rich and passionate lives. AND, to boot, divers needed more knowledge, skills and abilities to better and more safely handle the various contingencies that are often encountered on this deep wreck in open blue-water Ocean.

Photo: Kevin King

Although the Emmons has remained a popular dive destination since 2001, almost no one who dove her really knew what transpired to bring here to the depths of the East China Sea in 1945. Kevin felt it exceedingly important for those that visit this war grave to know, respect and honor not just those who fell here, but those who survived and carried wounds for the rest of their lives. This is especially true in Okinawa since the vast majority of divers visiting her wreck are or were active duty service members from every branch. Kevin, being a 20-year US Navy combat veteran and a college military history minor provides a rich, detailed examination of not just the ship and her crew, but of the context of the time. The result is an engaging, interactive, and powerful 2-hour historical presentation that peaks and holds peoples’ interest. Kevin provides a detailed student guide with a summary of his PowerPoint-based talk.

Photo: Kevin King

But that wasn’t enough for Kevin. He also realized that many divers had been and continue to be injured diving the Emmons, and more focused knowledge development and training with better efficacy was needed to prepare divers for conditions that are often encountered there. First and foremost, it is a very deep wreck; the ship rests on her starboard side in anywhere from 140-150 fsw (30 meters) to the bottom. Low visibility and very strong, unpredictable currents are often found, and conditions can change radically even during a single dive.

Photo: Kevin King

Given these basic dive parameters, Kevin’s specialty requires DEEP and EANx as prerequisites. He then integrated knowledge and skills from the PADI Self Reliant, PADI Tec and Delayed Surface Marker Buoy diver specialties. The Specialty is concluded by issuing each diver a ship’s coin, which can be brought down to her wreck on two guided dives. Kevin then provides a personalized certification card which he designed and had custom printed, and certifies divers same-day using ePIC online.

Photo: Kevin King

Photo: Kevin King

But that still wasn’t enough for Kevin. Being a US Navy veteran, Kevin feels a special bond to the entire crew of the Emmons, those alive and dead. He decided to return 50% of his proceeds of each certified diver back to the USS Emmons Association in support of their annual scholarship fund, a competitive program that delivers money to descendants of USS Emmons crew-members. In the first year of this distinctive specialty, Kevin was able to directly gift $2,200 to the association.

While Kevin’s Distinctive Specialty is one of the more popular on Okinawa, what matters most is the impact it is having back home. An excerpt from a letter from Mr. Tom Hoffman, Director, USS Emmons Association, highlights this impact:

“I am infinitely grateful to the men and women who use their diving expertise to honor the sacrifices made in the Emmons’ defense of freedom. To know that Emmons’ resting place is in the hands of such caring people is pleasing and fulfilling. Though I cannot visit the wreck myself, my certainty that the divers care deeply for our connection to the Emmons is the next best thing. It is truly spectacular that those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country are being honored in the utmost manner.”

Photo: Kevin King

Sayonara, Okinawa!


“Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” ~Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Recently Jody and I had to say our goodbyes to our beloved Okinawa, a land that we called home for the last 3.5 years.  I’ve written extensively about saying goodbyes during our last couple of international shifts.  One when we left Pensacola, Florida, the only place I really ever planted some roots since leaving my childhood home for college in 1984 (see Sayonara Amerika).  And just recently when we left Japan for our return to the states once again (see Goodbye).

Jody’s Hospital Crowd

Saying a proper “goodbye” to people, places, and even things has become more and more important to me as time has passed.  We marked our departure for the Orient back in 2013 with an Asian costume themed party to indelibly mark that occasion.  And we decided to do the same upon leaving Asia for ‘Murica just last month.

Terrace at Sea Garden

Renting out one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants Sea Garden, we invited a slew of our closest friends and coworkers.  Unfortunately for everyone, it seems that just the notion of wearing a costume kept more than a few people from attending.  But then again, in such a setting you get to see just who your closest friends and coworkers really are.  It IS important to say goodbye, and express it properly, a concept lost on so many people today who remain eternally rushed in their lives, taking things much too seriously as they neglect the things that really matter.  In any case, we had a wonderful time, and will cherish these bookend parties to our Far East Fling for the rest of our lives!

Party Goers

So, as I sit here in our pet-friendly hotel room in Jacksonville, North Carolina, passing the time until we can sign a lease and move into our temporary home for the next 20 months, I look fondly back on my latest time in Okinawa…and slowly shift my gaze to the future here in the coastal Carolinas.  But I’m already starting to scheme about the party we will throw upon our return to the Florida Panhandle in  late 2018.

Dorthy Says There’s No Place Like Home!

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Die Motherfucker Die


“Death is the solution to all problems. No printer – no problem.” ~Joseph Stalin, quote only slightly modified

Hate is a strong word.  I realized that about the time of my divorce well over a decade ago.  It is not to be used lightly, or loosely.  And seriously, I don’t hate much, or often.

But, I can say, with great confidence, that I hate my printer.  My ex-printer, that is….

We bought this printer quite by accident.  Such is how these types of ill-fated relationship-to-be often begin.  It was, at first, innocent enough:  our regular household goods, crated months earlier in Pensacola for our overseas journey to Okinawa, Japan, were never shipped, but instead, left sitting idly by, collecting dust in some musty warehouse in the rural southeast United States.  Read about that here Castaway.

We were able to file an “inconvenience claim” against our movers for their negligence in, well, actually moving our goods.  Or forgetting to move our household.  So off to the Kadena Air Force Base Exchange we went to find a replacement printer since we both needed one to carry out the personal plan and business transactions of our days.

Of course, there was absolutely nothing wrong with our beloved printer from The States.  But having the opportunity to buy a new device on someone else’s dime (and rightfully so), we decided to “upgrade” to what seemed to be a popular HP set, one of those large all-in-one photocopiers, printers, scanners and fax machines.  And so the Demon found its way home with us.

Demon Printer started executing its seditious agenda almost immediately.  When our Household Goods finally arrived in Okinawa (a full two months late), and when our *beloved* trusty printer of the past was unpacked, we realized it was damaged, and damaged beyond repair or operation.  Coincidence?  I think not.

The “problems” with our new printer started almost immediately after putting our original unit to permanent rest.  …as if the Demon Printer knew it and it alone now ruled the tangible output of our electronic lives.

And as if we already sensed the darker nature of this particular device, it was relocated to a far corner of a far room, connected wirelessly to our home network.  Perhaps it was this locale that really triggered Demon Printer’s incessant interruptions in our lives, or perhaps it was just ill-tempered no matter.  Its fate was sealed quite early our tenuous relationship.

Constant connectivity problems.  Paper jams.  Running out of paper at the most inopportune times.  Drinking ink like a an alcoholic crashing an open bar wedding reception….  And so much more.  I quickly came to hate this particular machine, clearly a “no-talent ass-clown”.

But the Exchange kept carrying the model.  There will hundreds of ink cartridges available.  They sold the entire 3.5 years we lived there.  Was it just me?  Was it just this particular serial-numbered printer which had been demonized?

Every single time I hit “print” from my desktop computer in our comfortable living area, I would hear the Demon awake with gurgles and growls, and then almost every single time an error message would appear.  Pick one, any one, or all of them:  “out of ink,” “paper jam,” “not ready,” “not online,” “out of paper”….  Sometimes the Demon would simply refuse to stir, no doubt deep in some black magic trance.

I attempted rational solutions.  I tried to flush its memory by pulling power for minutes, even hours.  I checked that all the trays were seated securely, the wheels and gears all aligned properly, and stacks of paper and ink cartridges were locked in place and photo cards aligned and inserted.  All to no avail.

The printer, when powered up or upon receiving a document to print would start an orchestrated gyration of popping sounds, grinding gears, and mechanical motion.  All, one would think, to ready itself to print.  But more often than that, it was simply a prelude to an error message….

Clearly this was no normal all-in-one copier.  No, it was no doubt a paranormal printer.  An Exorcism was clearly in order.  Problem was, I’m no Saint (not even close), and while anyone should be able to compel the power of Christ to oust the Devil, this too failed.

I had planned, for the longest time, to kill this printer prior to leaving Okinawa.  But with overseas, international moves being what they are, making time for this execution was problematic.  Don’t get me wrong:  I had the plan, the people, the camera, and even the bat.  But it came down to my last 24 hours….

We kept that demon printer out in case we needed to print.  But we were NOT taking it home with us.  And, as it turns out, we did need to print some documents (those having to do with sending our wine home, will be the subject of its own blog I assure you).  So I go to connect to the printer wirelessly with my Surface.  I Can’t…of course.  Jody comes in and connects right away with her Surface and prints the document.  However, she realizes a mistake, fixes it and attempts to reprint.  Wait-WHAT??  MOTHER FUCKER IS NOW, SUDDENLY OUT OF INK!?  Jody and I standing there, laughing or else we would cry.  And this – its failure on its very last print job is what ultimately sealed the Demon Printer’s fate.  The clock was now ticking to DEATH.

By the by, I told Jody to change the font in the document to blue, and it did print.  POORLY.  But good enough to get our booze home….

Minutes before our departure for the airport, after our seven pieces of luggage, four carry-ons, and two cat crates had been loaded in our two-vehicle convey, and with no reprieve coming, some friends and I carried out the sentence.

Die Motherfucker Die.

Goodbye!


“Dream as if you’ll live forever……live as if you’ll die today.” ~James Dean

Saying “Goodbye” is important.  Much more than most of us will allow.

In the skydiving world, we say goodbye to each other every single time we jump.  Because it could very well be the last jump we ever make.  It’s not a somber occasion, or even stressful.  No, the goodbyes are said energetically, with beaming smiles and eye contact that says “I love you, brother/sister, and if I don’t see you again, remember me in this moment.”  It’s about embracing life and living it fully and in the moment.  But unfortunately, this jumper’s farewell with a very good friend of mine a week before moving to Okinawa in 2013 was our last.  I am so very thankful that we got to say goodbye to each other.  And, in this case, in our own very unique way.  Read about it in Blue Skies, Black Death.

That story, which recalls my permanent goodbye with Jimmy, instantly makes me happy and warm whenever I think about him, and I do often.  That’s one reason why I take saying goodbye so seriously.  The word “goodbye” used to convey a much more serious sense of finality than it does today in the electronic age of connectedness.  Originally, it was said as a contraction of “God be with ye,” which conveys a blessing of safe travels and life.  “Farewell” comes from the antiquated “fare thee well,” yet another blessing we find today in “be well”.  But these send-offs also can also almost be a plea.  And to those of you that bid me and Jody adieu at our costumed “Sayonara” party, I salute you for coming out to say a fun-filled cheerio.  If you don’t see me again, I plead with you to remember me in that moment!

But now it is time for me to say goodbye to Okinawa.  I may not be back, after living here three different times and for over seven years total.  I’m filled with anticipation and I’m excited:  after living on Okinawa the last 3.5 years, Jody and I are moving, and moving to an area new to both of us (Camp Lejeune).  Don’t me wrong:  we don’t want to go, and we don’t want to go there.  But we have to.  Yes, it’s not what we wanted or expected, but it will allow me a wonderful new opportunity to continue pursuing my passion as a professional scuba diver, this time among the wrecks scattered off the coast of North Carolina.  But the fact remains I have to say goodbye to some people who and places which have come to mean a great deal to me.  Which always makes my heart hurt….

The military-industrial complex is not known for their stable, static jobs.  Active duty people continually transfer in and out through the proverbial revolving door.  Contractors come and go with contracts and sequestration, and even Government Service (GS) employees often relocate with either of these categories of people.  But even so, when the stable instability that is life associated with the military becomes even more unbalanced, what does it all mean?  The roles that people play are in reality easily replaced, but seldom is the person.  Once you know someone, it’s hard to unknow them—you might grow apart, your relationship might change, but if you know someone, have chosen to know someone, you will always know that person’s character.  It’s critical to us all, whatever our social constructs, that goodbyes resulting in significant change be acknowledged.  So we say goodbye, sometimes formally, often times as an expression of intimacy.  Goodbyes, especially among an affectionate cohort, can weigh heavily.  While you may officially say goodbye to such a someone once (or twice), you’ll continue to say goodbye, emotionally and mentally.  It’s a continual process.

So, at great risk of leaving important people off this list (and please take no offense), I say these goodbyes, in no particular order.  Ken Redifer, you’ve been a fantastic PADI Course Director and mentor to me along the way.  You have challenged me to be better at every turn, and trusted me with your students at every level.  I can’t think you enough for shepherding me along the way.  To Jessica Mills, my “Scuba Wife,” I value every moment together, even though as your surrogate Big Brother I probably annoyed you to no end.  You will do fine at the IE and will quickly mature into a kick-ass instructor!  Matt Lewis, you have been one of my closest allies here on Okinawa, and I’m ecstatic to leave both my Adopted Dive Site and the USS Emmons Diver Specialty in your capable hands.  I will not forget those final dives on that serene shipwreck with you.  Darlene Fong, my “Scuba Momma,” thank you for the tec training and 130fsw+ companionship along the way.  I will miss our trips out to the USS Emmons together!   Ben Favorite, a fellow retired flier and brother-in-arms, you have been a wonderful friend and solid dive buddy.  Here’s looking to Truk again in 2019.  Do me a favor and please do work too hard!  Rob and Wendy, thanks for introducing us to Ishigaki and the manta-scramble.  And Rob, my IDC cohort from back-in-the-day, you still owe me lunch!  For our dive industry professionals, including Mark of the Crystal Blue and Tony of Torii Scuba Locker, thanks for your assistance and pirate adventures on the high seas.  To my fellow instructors (including candidates sitting for their IE this coming weekend) and Certified Assistants with whom I have worked or taught – including Jeff R., Dale F., Kim N., Scott H., Gary J., Chris W., Mike H., Matt M., Jose R., Jayce G., Jimmy P., Brian P., Kurt R., Chuck D., Roger, Noorin, Louis, Troy, Sarah, Patricia S., Kim H., Rebecca R., Ben S., Barbara S., Cory J., Ty, Asako and Bruce, thank you for all the laughs and good times in and around the pools, seas and oceans of Okinawa.  And to the Divemasters who elected to train under me still located here (Ben, Jessica, Jacoby, Lewis, Gerardo, Peter and Cory), thank you for your trust in confidence in making your move to the pro side.  Mindy, I couldn’t let your broken foot go without a mention; thanks for all your help with my branding and website.  Ms. Ana, of course, one of my all-time favorite divers and former students, thank you for trusting me to safely introduce you to the amazing underwater world.  Your smile and passion about diving whenever I see you brightens my heart and lightens my day!  And, a special call-out to two individuals who need to become PADI Instructors:  Rich Kearney and Gerardo DeLucia.  You both have exactly what it takes, and I see you as perfect fits in our tribe.  Don’t put it off; I waited about 30 years too long….

Goodbye, to each and every one of you.

I no longer struggle with goodbyes.  Saying a heartfelt goodbye forces us to recognize a change in our path, an acknowledgment that we’re choosing (or sometimes being forced) to change the vector of our lives.  The very reason goodbyes are hard for so many people is the very reason we actually need to do them, and do them well:  because they matter.

Imbibing goodbyes is as much a part of the human experience as breathing.  Let them serve as goodness in your life, helping you to leave better, whole, and more loving.  All goodbyes contain a blessing.  Use them to make each goodbye count – even if you are just ducking out to the corner store.  Each fleeting goodbye can turn out to be a goodbye forever.

Blue Skies & Happy Bubbles, Kevin, Okinawa 2017

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Infamous Infamy:  Prime Minister Hideki Tojo


“At the Imperial Conference on December 1 (1941), it was decided to make war against England and the United States.”  ~Hideki Tojo, General, Imperial Japanese Army

Tojo, it seems, was a little bit full of himself. Really? That many medals??

Tojo, it seems, was a little bit full of himself. Really? That many medals??

I used to work at United States Southern Command in Miami with a fellow Naval Aviation whose flier callsign was “Tojo.”  He was a Navy Commander, an F-14 Tomcat Radar Intercept Officer, and of 100% Japanese descent and the first generation in his family to be born and raised in the United States.  While he is every bit as American as you or I, he bore a more than a casual resemblance to his namesake, especially when he touted a bushy mustache which is often did.  While I’m sure it was not a callsign of his choosing (they never are), he was rather good-natured about it, going so far as to hold his own “Pearl Harbor Atonement Day” every December 7th by catering in a huge lunch for the entire office.  But who was this man “Tojo,” and why don’t more Americans know about him and his role in Japan’s strike against Pearl Harbor and the expansion of the World War throughout the Pacific Basin?

FILE - In this Dec. 7, 1941 file photo, the destroyer USS Shaw explodes after being hit by bombs during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Wednesday marks the 70th anniversary of the attack that brought the United States into World War II. (AP File Photo)

Pearl Harbor, December 7th, 1941

Hideki Tojo (1884 – 1948) was a General of the Imperial Japanese Army and the 40th Prime Minister of Japan during much of World War II, from October 17, 1941, to July 22, 1944.  As Prime Minister, he was responsible for ordering the attack on Pearl Harbor (with the Emperor Hirohito’s approval), which initiated war between Japan and the United States.  After the end of the war, Tojo was arrested, tried for war crimes, and sentenced to death by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE).  He was hanged until dead on December 23, 1948.

Tojo as a Young Army Officer

Tojo as a Young Army Officer

Hideki Tojo was born in Tokyo in 1884 as the 3rd son of Hidenori Tojo, a Lieutenant General in the Imperial Japanese Army.  He graduated from the Japanese Military Academy in 1905 and was commissioned an Army Second Lieutenant.  In 1909, he married Katsuko Ito, with whom he would have three sons and four daughters.  He began to take an interest in militarist politics during his command of the 1st Infantry Regiment after promotion to colonel in the late 1920s.

Tojo with his Wife and Family

Tojo with his Wife and Family

In September 1935, Tojo assumed a command billet in the field in Manchuria (Northern China).  Politically by this time, he was fascist, nationalist, and militarist, and was nicknamed “Razor” for his reputation of having a sharp and quick mind.  In Manchuria, Tojo was responsible for the expansion of military operations and much wider attacks during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

The Leaders of the Axis Powers - note that Hirohito (who escaped execution) is pictures, not Tojo

The Leaders of the Axis Powers – note that Hirohito (who escaped execution) is pictures, not Tojo

By 1940 he strongly supported the newly signed Tripartite Pact between Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany, and Fascist Italy, and as Army Minister, he expanded the war with China and French Indochina in July 1941.  This latest aggression precipitated a response by the United States who imposed significant economic sanctions in August, including a total embargo on oil and gasoline exports, and demanded Japan’s withdrawal from China and Indochina.  “The heart of the matter is the imposition on us (Japan) of withdrawal from Indochina and China,” Tojo said in a September cabinet meeting.  He continued, “If we yield to America’s demands, it will destroy the fruits of the China incident.  Manchukuo [Manchuria, present-day northeast China] will be endangered and our control of Korea undermined.”

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On November 2, under the advisement of Tojo, the Emperor gave his consent to war.  The next day, Fleet Admiral Osami Nagano explained in detail the Pearl Harbor attack plan to Emperor Hirohito.  The eventual plan drawn up by Army and Navy Chiefs of Staff assumed a mauling of Western powers from which recovery would be impossible, leaving the Japanese planned defense perimeter incapable of breach.  On November 5, Hirohito approved the operations plan for a war against the West.  On December 1, another conference finally sanctioned the “war against the United States, England, and Holland” (Holland referring to Dutch control of the “East Indies,” present day Indonesia).

Tojo in 1942 as the Tide of War began to turn....

Tojo in 1942 as the Tide of War began to turn….

Tojo as depicted in Marvel Comics of the time

Tojo as depicted in Marvel Comics of the time

tojo-propaganda-1Tojo continued to hold the position of Army Minister during his term as Prime Minister, and as impossible and improbable as it seems, he also served concurrently as Home Minister, Foreign Minister, Education Minister, and Minister of Commerce and Industry, positions from which he could easily continue militaristic and nationalist indoctrination in the national education system, and totalitarian policies throughout the government.  While Tojo had popular support in the early, victory-filled years of the war, after the Battle of Midway (summer 1942), where the tide of war turned against Japan, Tojo faced increasing opposition from within the government and military.  U.S. wartime propaganda of the time caricatured Tojo as the face of the enemy.

Tojo Caricatured in a WWII Powers

Tojo Caricatured in a WWII Powers

After Japan’s unconditional surrender in 1945, U.S. general Douglas MacArthur issued orders for the arrest of alleged war criminals, including Tojo.  As authorities arrived at his residence to take him into custody, Tojo attempted suicide by shooting himself in the heart.  However, when American authorities surrounded his house on September 11, 1945, they found him alive but wounded, the bullet having missed his heart and penetrated his stomach instead.  Two Japanese reporters recorded his murmured words: “I am very sorry it is taking me so long to die.  The Greater East Asia War was justified and righteous.  I am very sorry for the nation and all the races of the Greater Asiatic powers.  I wait for the righteous judgment of history.”  Such righteous judgment was never to come.

Attempted Suicide and Aid by an American Medic

Attempted Suicide and Aid by an American Medic

After recovering from his injuries (after emergency surgery and extensive treatment in an American hospital), Tojo was moved to Sugamo Prison and tried by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East for war crimes and found guilty of waging wars of aggression, and war in violation of international law, as well as ordering, authorizing, and permitting inhumane treatment of Prisoners of War (POWs) and others.  In large part, he is directly responsible for many of Japan’s most egregious crimes of the 1930s and 1940s.

Tojo on Trial as a War Criminal

Tojo on Trial as a War Criminal

Tojo embraced full responsibility in the end for his actions during the war, all-the-while diligently shielding the Emperor from any intimation of guilt, which some claim was the aim of his testimony, on both sides.  The former Prime Minister made this speech during the time of his trial:

Tojo on Trial

Tojo on Trial

“It is natural that I should bear entire responsibility for the war in general, and, needless to say, I am prepared to do so.  Consequently, now that the war has been lost, it is presumably necessary that I be judged so that the circumstances of the time can be clarified and the future peace of the world be assured.  Therefore, with respect to my trial, it is my intention to speak frankly, according to my recollection, even though when the vanquished stands before the victor, who has over him the power of life and death, he may be apt to toady and flatter.  I mean to pay considerable attention to this in my actions, and say to the end that what is true is true and what is false is false.  To shade one’s words in flattery to the point of untruthfulness would falsify the trial and do incalculable harm to the nation, and great care must be taken to avoid this.”

Hanging Tojo

Hanging Tojo

Tojo's Medals on Display (only photo I could find!)

Tojo’s Medals on Display (only photo I could find!)

Tojo was sentenced to death on November 12, 1948 and executed on December 23, 1948.  Before his execution, he gave his military ribbons to Private First Class Kincaid, one of his guards, and in an unusual Far East Fling connection, they are now on display in the National Museum for Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida, where Jody and I call home and I used to work.  See the National Flight Academy for the facility and amazing experience for young people that I helped to design, build and open.

Ultra-Right-Wing Nationalists, then and now; Tojo's Granddaughter

Ultra-Right-Wing Nationalists, then and now; Tojo’s Granddaughter Yuko

In his final statements before execution, he apologized for the atrocities committed by the Japanese military and urged the American military to show compassion toward the Japanese people.  Tojo is one of the controversial Class “A” War Criminals enshrined at Tokyo’s Yasukuni (see Yasukuni:  Enshrining Japan’s War Dead for more) Shrine.  His daughter, Yuko Tojo, a ultra-far-right-wing Nationalist who attempted to rehabilitate her Grandfather’s reputation and role in WWII, claims to have fulfilled a dying wish of the senior Tojo by visiting our Pearl Harbor Memorial in 1999.  “In my grandfather’s will, he said he wanted to hold a ceremony to honor all the war dead, regardless of which side they fought on,” she said. “On behalf of the Tojo family, I’m going to carry out my grandfather’s wish.”

Never Forget

Like my shipmate’s attempts at making amends, we should always strive to atone, but to Never Forget.

Water Safety Stand-Down, or Punitive Stand Around??


“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation.  We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly.  We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”  ~Aristotle

Okinawa, as well as the wider Pacific basin (Korea, Japan and Hawaii, in terms of the Marine Corps at least), is going through a temporary ban/prohibition on recreational water activities.  Due in part to the drowning deaths of two Marines this past weekend, but certainly exacerbated by other deaths and numerous serious permanent injuries from earlier in the year.  The Commanding General here in Okinawa says it isn’t punitive – but it is.  And the stand-down is supposed to be about “resetting” the force to help improve water safety so that we all can better and more safely enjoy the water sports for which Okinawa is famous…which it doesn’t.

Don’t get me wrong:  these deaths are tragic, and tragically preventable.  I am not belittling any person’s life, nor calling into question that something needs to be done to help keep similar mishaps like these from happening in the future.  But hey Navy-Marine Corps Team:  you’re doing it wrong.

Here’s what happens when the military powers-that-be on Okinawa ban or prohibit some activity because there is an issue.  First, the literally tens of thousands of people that enjoy the waters around Okinawa on a weekly, and for some, almost daily basis, are marginalized, ignored, and otherwise lumped en mass with the few who are cause for concern.  There is NO DOUBT that preventable deaths are a sad, unnecessary and tragic occurrence.  But for the common Marine, Airman, Soldier or Airman, to take away their access to the water though no fault of their own is, well, punitive.  All it takes is a scan of the Facebook comments to see evidence of this conclusion firsthand.  In fact, the people that actually are doing everything RIGHT – the vast number of people affected by this order I argue -are lumped into the masses, and made to suffer some attempt at remediation.  We will get to how badly that remediation is being implemented in this case down below.

Second, subordinate commands can jerk the chain even further.  For instance, for MCCS Scuba Programs, even pool events/training were placed off-limits during this stand-down, with the explicit threat of immediate termination if a student was allowed to enter the water, any water, for any reason.  Are pools really the issue?  Are people getting hurt in the pools?  Are we worried about the safety of pools or the events that take place there?  Some people on this island have to make special arrangements to take a scuba diving class.  Some take leave.  Others have to clear duty schedules.  Still others have to coordinate work releases and/or baby-sitting.  Canceling the ability to train, specifically in a setting where a real difference can/could be made considering the subject and intent of the stand-down, is, well, punitive to some and counterproductive to most.

Further, MCCS Scuba was required to do an immediate 100% accountability recall of rental gear, a requirement expressed to staff and contractors with some sense of urgency.  The fact was made very clear that the shops were required to account for every single regulator and buoyancy control device.  Was this the Commander’s intent?  Whose “good idea” was this?  I’ve read the Commander’s intent, and nowhere is this type of reaction warranted, or required by any sort of evidence-based practice.  Are we really that worried about people sneaking off to go scuba diving?  If so, what about all those people with their own tanks and gear….

Then there’s the stand-down “training.”  It is, of course, a PowerPoint.  And of course it was created in mere hours, based on existing (and lame) water safety products already readily available.  If you haven’t reviewed this training brief, please do so now.  Actually, although I have the brief, it is classified “For Official Use Only,” and while not a “real” classification, it would be in very bad form to place it in this public domain.  So, my apologies, but you won’t be able to see what all of Okinawa will be forced to view.  This particular briefing is one which is being promulgated on the “Green Side” (US Marine Corps), and it simply and completely misses the mark.  In retrospect, I’m actually happy you the reader won’t view the training – saves me the embarrassment.

So, let’s cut to the chase…and get right to the point.

Preventing these fatalities and other water-related mishaps are NOT a matter of sitting through yet another poorly conceived and even more poorly constructed PowerPoint briefing, delivered poorly by someone lacking the requisite knowledge and expertise to speak intelligently about the very real and very serious issues at hand.  IT IS A MATTER OF CHANGING THE CULTURE OF WATER RECREATION SAFETY ON OKINAWA.

I’m not saying that a safety stand-down is unwarranted or inappropriate.  Quite the opposite; we used them effectively in Naval Aviation when I was a flier.  What I am saying is that in the modern age of intrusive military leadership, documented training in a CYA-mode along with additional layers of micromanagement and oversight, such unfocused and irrelevant “training” is counterproductive.  Judgment is an exceedingly hard thing to just “train” into people.  Paradigm and cultural shifts take a level of effort orders of magnitude beyond more GMT (general military training).

The training provided, from an examination of its content, focuses primarily on THREE things:  Okinawa “Sea Conditions,” dangerous marine life, and rip currents.  That’s right – little about experience, almost nothing about wearing of personal flotation, no push for training and certification (not just for divers, but snorkelers as well), and finally, almost nothing on how to mitigate and handle growing anxiety and near-panic in the water….

Having been a diver on Okinawa now for over seven years, and being a PADI Professional for about six of those years (and a diver for 25), I can tell you that I have only heard of (but cannot confirm) one American fatality from dangerous marine life, and that was due to anaphylactic shock from a sea wasp sting, and not from drowning (I believed this occurred on/about 1999).  This brief would have you believe that Moray eels and even Barracuda are out for blood.  Fully seven of the brief’s 30 slides – ¼ of the brief when you take out the intro and ending slides – are dedicated to marine life, which to my knowledge, have absolutely nothing to do with serious water-related injuries or fatalities this year…or in the last three.  Talk about detractors???  Again, what is causing the water-related deaths and injuries on Okinawa?  What are the chains in these mishaps that we can keep from being broken??  MOST CERTAINLY NOT DANGEROUS MARINE LIFE.  Oh, and marine life is only potentially  dangerous, mind you….

Second, there seems to be a concentration of content on rip currents (8 of 30 slides).  I’m not sure the genesis of this focus.  If there was/were rip currents involved in recent fatalities, THEN SAY SO.  I, for one, find this hard to believe, although it cannot be ruled out.  Again, being an experienced diver on Okinawa, with something like 1,000 dives throughout the island, I have found VERY FEW true rip currents here.  And even those, like ones at the “old” Onna Point, Sunny’s Sunabe, Water Treatment, and Hedo Point are dependent on tide phase and change, along with various aspects of sea state (wave height, direction and period).  Training people on what to do if caught in a rip current is not a bad thing, and in Southern California or parts of Florida, a necessary thing.  However, are the photos of the purported rips in the brief even from Okinawa???  Remember, undertow and surge are NORMAL aspects of increased surf, and should not be confused with rip currents….

Finally, the long, verbatim discussion on Sea Conditions (4 of 30 slides, extremely wordy) begs people to yawn and check Facebook on their cell phones.  Let’s be honest:  there is a rampant lack of respect for Okinawa’s Sea Condition, the people who set it, and the criteria that it’s based on.  I cannot even begin to numerate how many times the meteorologists have jumped the shark when it comes to actual water conditions versus published condition.  It is a common joke across the island.  Sometimes they under-report how bad things really are; other and maybe more often, they over-restrict access to the water when completely unwarranted.  I feel so strongly about how ineffectual Sea Condition is that it has its own dedicated blog; see Surf Nazis Must Die!  Keep in mind that most mishaps happen when in “all clear” or “caution,” sea conditions that do not preclude any in-water activity.

Where is this discussion in this training on the absolute necessity of personal flotation, not just when scuba diving, but when snorkeling, especially in water too deep to stand, REGARDLESS OF SEA CONDITION?  Where is the emphasis on gaining proper experience?  But that in and of itself still isn’t enough:  where is the much needed discussion on MAINTAINING PROFICIENCY??  Having insider information on recent events on Okinawa, I can tell you with a high degree of certainty that lack of PFDs combined with inexperience and lack of proficiency were direct contributors to very unfavorable outcomes….

Where is the discussion in this training on whether the mishap persons in question inflated their flotation or not (if they were even wearing any)?  Was gear in place – mask and snorkel?  Where regulators used during questionable surf entries/exits?  Did the mishap scuba diver inflate their BCDs?  Did the mishap scuba diver drop weights?  Did those attempting a rescue ensure positive buoyancy for the victim and themselves?  Did rescuers drop the mishap scuba-diver’s weights?  Was emergency oxygen available and utilized?  These are all critical elements which could (but not necessarily so), improve the chances for a more favorable outcome.

Where is the discussion in this training that it’s not enough to have the appropriate gear, but to wear and use that gear?  When encountering any questionable surf on entry or exit, mask must be on and reserve air in the scuba cylinder should be utilized by using the kit’s regulator.  Further, how many divers really understand that in moderate-to-heavy surf on scuba that at times it is much better to DEFLATE completely to keep surge from throwing divers about?

Where is the discussion in this training on how important it is to calm yourself the moment you begin to feel anxiety in the water?  About being familiar and experienced enough with your gear (assuming you are wearing it) to utilize it when it is absolutely necessary?  Panic is a killer in the water, even at the surface, and as far as I can tell, these last three fatalities all happened at the surface, and were almost certainly preceded by full-blown panic.

Then there are the training’s misguided “Takeaways.”  From the brief one would assume that rip currents and dangerous marine life would be highlighted.  But they aren’t.  Instead, one takeaway incorrectly says to “go with your instincts”!  Instinctively people will go into water which they are not prepared for!!!  Only training and experience can overcome “instinct.”  Another points out that alcohol and water activities don’t mix:  IS THERE SOMETHING WE SHOULD KNOW HERE??  Or, is this just yet another plug to “not drink and [fill in the blank]….”  Yet another take-away is adherence to the buddy rule, always a great idea, but did a loose interpretation of the buddy team concept result in or contribute to one of these mishaps???  These are the things that we all need to know.  In the brief’s defense, it does on the final slide talk about training and equipment, but only in summary.

What are my takeaways, and what would I tell people if I had an audience, or were even invited to have input in water-safety training?  I would say this:

  • There is absolutely no substitute for comprehensive, quality training, for boating, personal watercraft, snorkel, scuba, and swim.
  • Training & Experience win over instinct every time.
  • There is absolutely no reason to disregard required equipment.
  • There is absolutely a need to build personal first-hand experience, both in numbers (repeated exposure) and over time (exposure to a wide variety of environments/conditions).
  • There is absolutely a need to maintain proficiency; swim, snorkel and scuba skills are perishable, especially for novices experiencing a long lay-off.
  • Emergency Procedures must be practiced in order for them to be effective, especially with new and/or unfamiliar dive buddies.
  • The “10 Second Rule” is not enough: waves come in trains, and ten second is not long enough to properly assess a situation.  A decision NOT TO DIVE can be concluded within 10 seconds.  However, if after 10 seconds the conditions seem okay, continue to monitor the site for a FULL MINUTE.  Only then can wave trains be properly accounted for, along with wave period and extent of surge.
  • Utilize all gear when in moderate-to-high surf, which includes keeping masks on, and having a mouthpiece in mouths (preferably a regulator/air source).
  • The moment increased anxiety is felt, STOP & BREATH; focus and get control of your breathing before thinking about necessary actions. Loss of breath control contributes quickly to panic and water aspiration, a combination that is deadly.
  • There is absolutely a need to change the culture of assumed personal invincibility over the oceans to one of exercised personal responsibility for your own safety – your safety is your responsibility, yours and yours alone.

Finally, in order to change the culture of water safety in Okinawa, it’s going to take engagement with all those that have the most impact and the most visibility:  swim coaches and instructors, snorkel and scuba instructors and store staffs, and even boat/watercraft renters and operators.  From my standpoint, and here I believe I may speak for many, there is almost zero engagement with the wider community of professionals, who all stand willing, able and ready to help make a change.  Outside of a few select individuals from a couple of the military dive shops, the community of professional divers is largely unleveraged in this regard.

What can be systemically done?  Push for additional training.  One way would be subsidies to bring the cost of relevant training down, training which could/may include snorkel/skin diver certifications through the dive shops, Advanced Open Water dive training, and even Rescue dive training.  Another business model could use additional revenue generated from a price increase for entry-level dive programs that would be used to offset these other courses.  Currently, only 7% of my annual certifications are for Rescue.

For me, personally, the best I can do at this point is through each and every class that I instruct, and each and every dive that I lead or attend.  I have, in the last year, added buoyancy and mask skills to every single class, and in the last months, have added an increased emphasis on sea state/ dive site evaluation and entry & exit safety.  Because, based on my own root cause analysis of mishaps (albeit based on very little and all unofficial information since little is shared with the wider community), these elements are exactly that critical.

Until there is a more reasonable, grounded and holistic approach to improving water safety, by engaging all stakeholders and customers alike, we will seldom make progress given the status quo of punitive restrictions and yet another ineffectual PowerPoint briefing.  “Are we done yet,” I hear you say as you yawn and put down your cell.  Yes, yes we are.  Now hopefully you can be done standing around and finally go back in the water.