Zachary Wolff always knew he wanted to do something in the water. Being a life-long swimmer proved it would be silly to think otherwise.
Wolff, who was born in England to U.S. military parents, has been in the Navy for 10 years, fulfilling his promise to work around water. The appeal was too strong, he said, and the Navy proved to be the perfect remedy for that itch.
There are countless ways to reenlist once in the Navy. Sailors have done so aboard ships, while climbing mountains, and have gone the normal route of doing so wherever they are stationed.
Thanks to Georgia Aquarium, you can now add, “Reenlist while diving with whale sharks” to the list.
So when Wolff got word he could reenlist under water, it was a no brainer.
“I had a friend who was a recruiter in the Atlanta area for divers, SEALs and EOD techs, and he had a connection here,” Wolff says. “Commander [Hung] Cao made the connections and we were able to set this up.”
Georgia Aquarium recently hosted three Navy officers for a special reenlistment ceremony. The group, led by Commander Cao, took part in a dive in the Ocean Voyager exhibit—all 6.3 million gallons of it—alongside whale sharks, stingrays and hundreds of other species from around the world.
Once at the bottom, the officers recited the oath—yes, they did this while underwater—and officially reenlisted into the Navy.
They also busted out into a song…seriously.
“I’ve been in the Navy for 10 years and I haven’t seen a whale shark,” Wolff says. “There aren’t many opportunities to be in a tank with whale sharks as well as this many different animals. They have animals from the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans, and you’re not going to find an environment like that anywhere else.”
Wolff said it was the people who kept him coming back to the Navy after 10 years, and that working with a team and having each other’s back meant the world to him.
But to be fair, he said doing cool things like diving with whale sharks was a nice perk, too.
“Kids at home sit and play on video games, but I get to go out and do some of those things for real, and that’s fun,” Wolff says.
And how was life with a whale shark (even if it was rather brief)?
“It was amazing. They were within a foot of me,” he said. “They’re massive, amazing creatures. This was an opportunity of a lifetime. I want to thank Georgia Aquarium for the opportunity they gave us.”
Commander Cao was glowing with pride when talking about Wolff and his fellow instructors. The Commander praised the three as some of the best instructors in the world, who would be tasked with training the future Navy sailors.
The dive was special for Cao in another way, too, as his son was able to join him under water.
His son’s favorite part was the whale sharks, of course. Perhaps he, too, will be a Navy diver some day.
Cao has been in the Navy for almost 26 years, a long time for sure. What keeps him interested after all this time?
“The people. That’s what this whole dive was about,” Cao said. “It’s the camaraderie. You can’t get that anywhere else.”