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Maj. John Weldon swims with the Pt. Defiance Zoo and Aquarium sharks

Meet the scuba-diving Western Air Defense Sector guardsman

Maj. John R. Weldon brings the Seahawks 12th Man spirit to the fish.

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One of Joint Base Lewis-McChord's own is not only dedicated to serving in uniform he also routinely dons a wetsuit to help out underwater.

Maj. John R. Weldon, of the Western Air Defense Sector, is a regular volunteer diver at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (PDZA) where he spends his free time submerged among sea creatures, vibrant fish and, of course, sharks.

At Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Weldon works fulltime as a controller on the operations floor, specifically as an Air Battle manager. He manages a staff that monitors 73 percent of the United States' airspace, as part of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, for aircraft that are in duress, whether foreign or illegal. Should the threat of an air attack arise, akin to 9/11, Weldon and his team would intercede to provide planning and execution for a defense and could be called upon to advise other allied military forces.

Weldon, who served on active-duty for six years before transitioning into the Air National Guard over a decade ago, is married to a fellow Washington Guardsman, Laura, and has a daughter, Pepper Ann.

"I'd always been interested in diving, but I didn't get qualified until I attended controller school in Florida for a year," he said. "So I got qualified there in the warm waters and it was very easy to dive. Then I came back to Washington and I had to get recertified with different equipment because of the water temperature differences, but I wanted to be able to continue diving since I loved it."

So Weldon decided to think outside the box, albeit inside the tank, and contacted the PDZA to offer up his skills.

"The military side of my career really helped because it showed that I was dependable and trainable," he said. "Yet it still took a year to get on the schedule because I had to also be training in tank maintenance, CPR, bite training in case a shark attacked, diver emergency action and more."

Weldon also had to get through an interview and pass a rigorous dive test, but in the end, he succeeded. Over the past five years, Weldon has volunteered up to two days a week as a diver at the aquarium, handling maintenance and upkeep for the North Pacific aquarium, and, as of three months ago, he's been allowed to feed the sturgeon, halibut and stingrays during his shifts.

Not that he doesn't get to have fun, say by participating in underwater pumpkin carving for Halloween or putting a Santa costume on for dives during the November and December ‘Scuba Santa' shows.

"My favorite part is really the interaction with the fish - it's amazing - and, of course, the interaction with the crowd. To see a person dressed as a frogman is great, but when you're dressed as Santa Claus, it's even better ... the masks even allow you to hear the crowd so that when the kids talk you can react," Weldon said.

Recently, Weldon got even more of a crowd reaction when he brought a 12th Man flag along with him to the aquarium and took it down for a dive, which resulted in clamoring visitors and many flashbulbs.

However, while he loves being in the tanks, Weldon is still committed to his job on dry land.

"The Air Force was one of the best moves I've made professionally," he shared. "Working for a mission and working for an objective that's bigger than you, that's the motivation."

To get a glimpse of Weldon in the water, try a visiting the PDZA, 5400 N. Pearl St. in Tacoma, on Monday and Friday afternoons.

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