Making a splash: NCO goes deep to re-enlist

A Tyndall Airman re-enlisted in a unique way recently, diving approximately 70 feet underwater to swear in for another 3 1/2 years of service.

Technical Sgt. Robert Barnes, 325th Communications Squadron quality assurance NCO in charge, wanted his re-enlistment to be one he will always remember. He knew it was time for him to re-enlist once again, but didn’t know how he was going to do it.

When he was at the Paul W. Airey NCO Academy, Barnes decided he was going to scuba dive for the big event. Once he had an indication of what he was going to do, he set things in motion to make his idea happen.

“I got the idea from one of my classmates at the NCOA,” Barnes said. “He had an Airman re-enlist underwater where the sunken U.S. Naval Ship General Hoyt S. Vandenberg is, and then I remembered they sunk some F-101 Voodoo’s off the coast of Panama City, Fla., so I figured why not do it.”

Barnes needed an officer who was scuba certified to swear him in, so he asked a friend and co-worker from the U.S. Navy Sea Cadets Corps, a program for young people ages 13 through 18 that develops an interest and ability in seamanship and seagoing skills, Jon Graydon, 1st Air Force (Air Forces Northern) civil support planner at Tyndall and an U.S. Marine Reserve lieutenant colonel. 

“Since he was a retired lieutenant colonel, I decided to ask him to be the officer to swear me in,” Barnes said. “With him being the officer to swear me in this time, now marks the third different military branch officer to do so; Air Force and U.S. Navy being the other, and I thought that was an added bonus.”

After more than six months of putting the pieces in motion, the big day was just around the corner and the date was set: June 26.

When the day began, things were not looking good for Barnes and everyone who was helping. The sky was gloomy with overcast. Then it started raining. Everyone met at Panama City Marine Institute, thinking it might not happen, but Rob Boyce, PCMI executive director, gave the green light and it was soon to begin.

After more than 45 minutes of traveling to the destination by Boyces’ boat, the anchor was lowered and the three-man dive team was ready to begin — but only after one of them brought his head back from over the side of the boat after suffering from motion sickness.

With all divers wearing their respective military branch uniform, they dove in, one after the next. One diver went down with a the Air Force Oath of Enlistment on a white board, another with the U.S. Flag, followed by the Airman who was to swear in.

With everyone 70 feet under, everything was in place. They knew the ceremony would begin and end the same way: with a salute to the officer.

“Everybody wants their re-enlistment to be unique,” said the drenched Marine with his eyes wide-open after the underwater ceremony. “I understand why he chose to make it like this. Being prior enlisted myself, I was always looking for something different, and even though we were challenged from the get-go, we pursued it and made it happen.”

After the service-members came back to the surface Barnes expressed his sentiment with a cheek-to-cheek grin.

“This is the first time I have done it out of the ordinary,” he said. “Even though it was a little cloudy, the re-enlistment went well and it will take me to 20 years of service. And I am proud of that.”

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