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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”