Sailor overcomes hardships, excels
The military ranks are lined with men and women who go above and beyond what is required of them to get the job done. Some specialized jobs, such as Navy diver, require Sailors to push themselves further and harder to overcome obstacles in their lives, personal or professional.
"A Navy diver is someone who has proven to themselves to get through any situation, and when the going gets tough, isn't going to turn their back and quit," said Navy Diver 1st Class Kenneth Dinette, the 2016 Navy Diver of the Year. "Really, what Navy diving is all about is just embracing whatever situation is out there, taking it on head-on and completing it right."
The Navy Diver of the Year award was established in 2014 to recognize the diver who best represents the singular commitment to excellence that is the hallmark of the Navy diving community. He or she must also embody the kind of courage and unwavering determination as exemplified by retired Boatswain's Mate Master Chief Carl Brashear, the first African-American master diver.
The Carl M. Brashear Foundation presents the award annually to candidates who have overcome significant personal, physical or emotional challenges to earn and keep the coveted Navy dive pin. Those can include candidates who lose someone close to them, face physical or physiological hurdles or those who meet academic challenges that could prevent them from qualifying for dive school.
Dinette, a native of Gresham, Oregon, enlisted in the Navy in April 2004. He had been having a hard time at home and wanted to change his life for the better. While watching "Men of Honor," he was inspired by Brashear's story and how he overcame the hardships and racism he experienced. Dinette decided to follow in his footsteps and become a Navy diver.
"I think it has been a life-long struggle for ND1," said Senior Chief Navy Diver Charles Foster. "He has never had it easy. He had to work hard for everything he has ever gotten and I think this is no different."
While celebrating Easter in the Fresno, California, area with his wife and kids, Dinette learned his mom, who had lived with their family for several years and cared for the children, was in the hospital. He and his family packed up and started driving down to San Diego where his mom was located. Barely an hour away from the hospital, Dinette received devastating news.
"April 2, 2016, I got very terrible phone call," said Dinette. "My chief called me and let me know my mom had passed away. I had that feeling like my throat was in a vice. I could barely breathe. It's a day I will never forget in my life.
"Once my mom passed away, everything changed," he continued. "My wife had to quit her career and had to be a stay-at-home mom, and I'm trying to continue on with my Navy career. It was hard balancing work and home life, and trying to process everything, trying to grieve."
When everything started to get back to normal and the family began settling into their new roles and routines, the Dinettes decided to spend the day hiking in Cedar Creek Falls, California. But as they were enjoying their day outside, their outing went south. Dinette's wife, Sylvia, slipped, fell and broke her tibia and fibula in half.
The years of dive training instilled into Dinette kicked in and he fixed her leg enough to carry her. With his boys single file in front of him, he slowly carried her up the hill. Luckily, they ran into some hikers who were able to get into cell phone range and call for help. Ultimately, Dinette carried his wife a mile and a half until a rescue helicopter could reach them.
"I handled it like any dive drill: This is the situation that's presented, this is what I am seeing, this is what I am hearing," said Dinette. "I got her to a clearing, a little meadow area and then we heard the helicopter fly around, and were able to life flight her out of there."
"I was in shock and didn't know what to do. It was scary," said Sylvia. "It was nerve wrecking, so he kept me calm by staying calm and knowing what to do."
Dinette had to pick up all the responsibilities in the house because his wife was unable to walk for a couple of months. He had to once again balance his work and personal life. On top of preparing to go and participate in the annual Rim of the Pacific exercise (RIMPAC), he was cooking, cleaning and taking care of his wife and kids.
"It took her about two months to start walking again and start actually being able to do the normal things she does a daily basis," said Dinette. "It was very difficult to overcome all of that at once. I found myself at some points just like, 'This is ridiculous. How am I going to do this?' You take it one day at a time and control what you can control. I can either sink and go down in flames, or I can just say, 'You know what? Run the next play until I start winning again.'"
Somehow, he still showed up early for work and took an hour to study each morning. This unwavering commitment and desire to be the best diver he could be while dealing with his personal hardships didn't go unnoticed by Dinette's superiors.
"The motivation, the never-give-up type of spirit that Carl Brashear had is clearly evident in ND1," said Foster.
Many Sailors in the diving community look to Brashear for inspiration and the courage to get back up and keep moving forward. Brashear encountered and overcame many personal struggles throughout his diving career. He even lost a leg after a salvage operation went wrong, and fought to not only stay in the Navy, but become a master diver. Through sheer willpower and stubbornness, he achieved this milestone in 1970. Dinette used this motivation to push through his toughest of days.
"Master Diver Carl Brashear ... a whole other era. If he could overcome the struggles he had, I have zero excuse whatsoever," said Dinette. "I had a broken heart, and still do. My mom is still the first thing I think of every single morning when I wake up. Just knowing I can never talk to her again is very hard, but if he [Brashear] could overcome the struggles he overcame, why can't I?"
It was this attitude that earned Dinette the 2016 Navy Diver of the Year award. He persevered and overcame not only the two hardest moments in his life, but also remained determined to become the best diver he could be.
"If anything, this award validates the year I had on a large scale, and I couldn't be more proud," said Dinette. "It's a true honor to have my name associated with Master Diver Carl Brashear. I was super excited and I actually gave a fist pump and yelled out 'Ya!' I was fired up about it."