Veterans become scuba instructors with GI Bill benefits

Orland Park, Ill. (WLS) -- Veterans who love the water are choosing scuba diving as a career path once they leave the military, helping them heal, find a way forward, and enjoy the water at the same time.

"There is just something about the water," said Chris Lowe, a master instructor and Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Everything else just kind of goes away," he said. "You get concentrated and focused on what you're doing, and it's just an enjoyable experience."

Lowe is a veteran teaching veterans.

He works for Dive Right in Scuba in Orland Park. The company, founded by a veteran, has a Veterans Vocational Program that teaches veterans to become scuba instructors. The GI Bill covers the cost, $12,500 each, for the 17-week program, Lowe said.

"It's peaceful, it's quiet, it gives you a chance to get away from all the noise in life," said Joshua Margewich, a scuba student and Marine veteran.

Margewich is fresh out of the military.

"I just got out two months ago, so for me, this is a good community for me to connect with - where I don't feel so - I don't want to call it alone, but there is an adjustment period going from the military to civilian life again," Margewich said.

Everyone in the Veterans Vocational Program has served our country, albeit their experiences in the military widely vary. Now, they share a common goal of becoming scuba instructors.

"I'm trying to turn it into a full-on job. That's my dream," said Devin Sullivan, a scuba instructor and Navy veteran.

Since it's a vocational school, the program includes classroom training, including lessons about running a business, and maintaining equipment and pools.

Often times, GI Bill benefits are used for colleges and classrooms, but Lowe wants veterans to know there are other options available, like teaching scuba.

"We're looking to give people opportunity to make a different choice," he said, "to not sit in a building, or a classroom, or a bank or whatever from 9 to 5 everyday."

Not only is diving Lowe's career, he said it has also helped him with PTSD.

"Scuba diving has been a healing, a healing experience and it's been one of the most enjoyable things that I've ever done," Lowe said. "And one of the greatest thing about it is being able to share it with people."

The veterans in the program have different military experiences and they are in the vocational program for different reasons.

Agnieszka Borczykowska, a member of the Illinois National Guard, served in Kuwait during the pandemic. She simply enjoys the underwater world.

"The aquatic life, honestly, being able to dive into the water. It's a lot of fun," she said.

Sullivan, the Navy corpsman, said diving has allowed him to relax and unwind.

"There is just a huge difference before you go in the water and after you get in the water. It's kind of like a reset," Sullivan said.

As for Margewich, the Marine who just left the military weeks ago, diving is a second career he's thrilled to embrace.

"I never thought I would be able to get a job in the scuba industry. I thought it was competitive, but now here I am in the Midwest in Illinois, working in the career I always wanted to," Margewich said. "You don't have to go far to do what you want do to follow your dreams, you just have to look."

Veterans interested in the program can visit www.diverightinscuba.com/courses/va-program.html.
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