National Guardsman gives up time to lifeguard at base pool in Kuwait
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — It’s a beach bum’s nightmare: to be deployed to the desert.
In Kuwait, though, it’s not too scary for Chief Warrant Officer 2 Al Chapman. In fact, he says he has no worries.
“Oh yeah, this is hard work,” said the tanned pilot with a sarcastic smile, who volunteers as a lifeguard at the camp pool along with two other deployed soldiers. “No, really, they had a need for a lifeguard and I saw that I could help out. I’m all in favor of soldiers having fun.”
Chapman is more than just a little qualified. He has vivid memories of learning how to swim as a toddler, competitively swimming throughout his school years, and having experience as a lifeguard at lakes, beaches and pools.
“People don’t realize the impact this place has on guys and gals who are deployed. The opportunity to have something like this is a godsend. It’s a break from the Army,” said Chapman who, during the workweek, flies for the command flight crew, which provides aviation support to the Coalition Forces Land Component Command with Company A, 1-171 Aviation Regiment, out of Camp Udari.
“It’s cool that they volunteer their time,” said Spc. Rachel Dockery, a member of the 210th Military Police Company that was stationed in Baghdad for the past year. “We got here last year and there was none of these things, no comfort. It’s nice to be able to relax and enjoy a nice day at the pool before we make our way to wherever we need to go.”
Chapman volunteers at the pool two to three times a week, mostly on the weekends, and he tries to make it out a couple more times to do some swimming himself.
“Without volunteers, with how low staffed we are, we’d basically be run ragged,” said Ruben Ruiz, from Oceanside, Calif., and the lead lifeguard at the pool. “It’s great that he gives up his time for the soldiers.”
Chapman has spent as much time in the water as he has out of it. He first learned to swim as a toddler, in a “sink or swim” method with his mother in a class. Around age 5 or 6, he began doing laps and learning different strokes. Next, he started swimming competitively, becoming his high school team captain. He swam the men’s 50- and 100-freestyle, winning state championships for four years and finishing in his state’s top 10.
By 16 years old, Chapman was a certified lifeguard and worked every summer at lakes and pools. As an adult, Chapman volunteered to be a lifeguard for his unit in Hawaii.
Though he has never had a major rescue, he said he did once help a child that simply became too tired to swim any longer.
“I just picked him up out of the water. It was nothing too exciting. No open water, jump in, rescue thing. But that’s because of my extreme vigilance,” joked Chapman. “Oh, and I did save Pam Anderson once.”
Chapman said being around the water offers him an escape from the realities of working in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The deployment took him away from his civilian job as an airline pilot for Delta’s Atlantic Southeast Airline.
As a National Guard soldier from Georgia, Chapman said he doesn’t get as many military flight hours as some of his comrades. He’s clocking in just over 2,000 hours of flight time, which he says isn’t much.
While at home in Athens, Ga., when Chapman isn’t flying, he’s rippin’ up some waves with his surfboard.
He said people have a misconception that all surfers are this “Jeff Spicoli-type guy,” referring to the “surfer dude” character in the film “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” but, in reality, surfers are investment bankers, schoolteachers and even pilots.
“Surfing is a lifestyle. It gives me this connected feeling with the ocean, a peaceful feeling,” Chapman said.
Though he can’t hit the waves in Kuwait, keeping watch over troops at the pool offers Chapman as much peace as a pilot can get while deployed.