Diving into Post-Military Life: How NAUI’s SkillBridge Program is Shaping Future Dive Instructors

My name is ET3 Jack Illare, and I am currently participating in the NAUI Skillbridge program. My passion for diving was ignited nearly a decade ago in the serene blue waters of Florida’s natural springs. Since then, this interest has guided me across three continents, offering dozens of unforgettable experiences. I initially sought a diving certification in anticipation of a two-month trip to Australia. After all, visiting Australia without experiencing the Great Barrier Reef was unthinkable to me.


Jack Illare

Fast forward several years, and I was an electronics tech third class in the Navy, contemplating the trajectory of my life post-military. I only discovered the SkillBridge program when it was nearly too late to apply. However, I fortunately stumbled upon the DoD SkillBridge website and NAUI’s SkillBridge website. Within days, I found myself at a NAUI affiliate dive shop, exactly where I had hoped to be.


To my surprise, I discovered I had the ability to select from a myriad of locations worldwide for NAUI’s SkillBridge program. Nevertheless, I opted to begin my internship at Divers Supply in Jacksonville, FL. In just one month, I logged an additional 26 dives, all courtesy of Divers Supply and the NAUI SkillBridge program.


I quickly realized that NAUI aspires to mold participants into competent instructors, a goal facilitated by the G.I. Bill®. I was drawn to NAUI’s pedagogical approach, leading me to retake my open water certification with them.


The focused, meticulous training rapidly improved my diving skills, emphasizing self-rescue over dependency on others. While NAUI’s program demands more, the outcome is profoundly rewarding.


I wholeheartedly recommend NAUI’s SkillBridge program to any service member interested in diving. Importantly, this program can be covered by your GI bill®. Even if you think you’re too late to join, without a full 180 days remaining before your End of Active Obligated Service (EAOS), you can still participate.


Victoria Gonzalez (Right)

Joining me in this journey is YN1 Victoria Gonzalez, another participant in the NAUI SkillBridge program. She had initially attended college to study marine biology but found herself ill-suited to the study of chemistry. Upon leaving college, she joined the Navy, launching an entirely new career path.


During her six-year tenure in the Navy, Gonzalez served as a yeoman and administrative professional. She excelled in diverse roles, including as the command public affairs officer, legal clerk, and security manager. Simultaneously, she returned to school, working towards a bachelor’s degree in public relations.


Victoria Gonzalez (Right)

Despite her dedication and success, the constant relocation inherent in her position took its toll, and Gonzalez began to seek other opportunities. She discovered the SkillBridge program, which was perfect considering her past interest in marine biology and a lifelong desire to learn scuba diving. Thus began her journey into the dive industry.


Despite entering the program with no experience, Gonzalez received unwavering support from her instructors. Their enthusiasm and guidance provided her with a solid introduction to the diving industry.


Building upon her background in administration and public relations, she soon began working with NAUI’s marketing department, creating content on ocean conservation and contributing to the new NAUI campaign for SkillBridge.


Victoria Gonzalez (Left) Jack Illare (Middle)

Together, Gonzalez and I had the incredible opportunity to visit the team at Captain Hooks in the Florida Keys. We contributed to the cleaning of the coral nursery, capturing footage, interviews, and photographs that highlighted the critical work they do in ocean conservation. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us, especially considering Gonzalez started 2023 without an open water certification. Both of us are deeply grateful and excited about where our journeys with NAUI and the dive industry might lead in the future.