Two weeks to Dive…
Ever since I joined the military, I became an adrenaline “junkie.” Especially being an airborne parachutist. I like to be active, to do new things, to get riled up, and to experience what others dream about. But what I never thought of was how to find an adrenaline rush that could also calm me down. I know, it sounds weird. But let me tell you that it exists! It is called scuba diving. I have always been intrigued with the idea of doing some diving; but it was something that was way out of my budget. After doing some research on scuba diving courses near me, I found out that my answer was right in front of me. Rick Hayes is a Retired Warrant Officer that used to work in the unit that I’m assigned to, and I met him while doing some hurricane relief efforts in Panama City Beach, FL just a few months ago. I found out that he has founded a nonprofit organization called Task Force Poseidon (TFP), which helps veterans with disabilities get their open water scuba diving certification. I thought to myself, ¨this might be my answer,¨ and decided to ask him about it. I started with the truth about me—I noticed that his organization focused on disabled veterans and told him that I was just an “enabler” that supported the “real operators.” I thought I was going to get declined, but I didn’t. Rick reached out at a later time to tell me that I was going to attend the December course at Emerald Coast Scuba (ECS) in Destin, FL. That’s when it hit me—I had 2 weeks to dive!
On top of attending the classes, I had to do the online training portion. Most people tend to do a module every night for 5 days, but I was so excited that I was doing a module and a half every night. Then, I would have to go to Emerald Coast Scuba to take the other part. When I first got there I went in at the wrong door—ha! I went in upstairs rather than the showroom. This turned out to be a good thing; as I was greeted by Ms. Anna and Jason—who happens to be Rick’s friend. He then took me downstairs and introduced me to my instructor, Sean Coppedge. He reminded me of the big turtle from Finding Nemo—full of water knowledge and groovy-talking at the same time. The first thing he asked me was, “do you have any equipment?” I was like, “oh snap, first day of school and I’m about to get kicked out already!” He told me not to worry, and provided me with all the equipment I needed for the class. He even told Jason to open a brand new mask that was donated by Oceanic brand to the nonprofit; I treated that mask like it was one of my kids, ha!
The first two classes were in a pool. They were filled with a lot of refreshers from the online classes, but it was interesting to actually reenact what I was reading at night. Two things I will not forget: it was 50 degrees outside but the pool was heated to 90 degrees; and my first breath underwater. Breathing underwater was a feeling on steroids, ha! All of your senses become more sensitive—especially your hearing; but breathing underwater made me stay focused on every task given. I was out of my element, but I was trying to perform to the best of my abilities. I even learned how to make “O’s” underwater, ha! The first day, we had to cut the class short because of lightning, but we picked back up the following morning. I couldn’t believe I was about to do a real open water dive the following week.
Week 2 was awesome. It was in the 50’s, but the water was 68 degrees. It was still cold for me, but ECS provided me with two wetsuits that were my saviors. I was determined. So determined, that I forgot to do my buddy check (bad juju)! When I corrected myself, it took me back to one of my trainings in the Army, NTC—when I did my PCC’s and PCI’s with the operators, they got in a big circle and went one by one checking from top to bottom that everything was in order. Everything has to be in complete and perfect order while diving, because a fun time can turn into a bad time in a split second. I got in the water, and Sean then told us that he’d meet us at the bottom. My first thought was to hover, so I wouldn’t crash at the bottom—I didn’t. I, for the first time ever, experienced total quiet and peace, with one of the greatest adrenaline rushes I’ve ever had. I felt like I was flying! Sean then took us on our first dive and it was sensational! I didn’t even feel cold, with everything that was happening. There were fish swimming around us, and it felt so peaceful. It felt short, but we were in the water for a hot minute.
The next day, I was ready to experience calmness one more time, and then Rick showed up, ha! I remember he told me he was going to dive with me, but I got kind of anxious before I got in the water because I felt that I could not make a mistake in front of the person that helped me get here. Man I was wrong—Rick pulls out his GoPro and underwater we go! I even forgot he was there half the time; I was so focused on my diving buddy and the experience that I didn’t have a chance to mess up. It felt so natural and relaxed. Once we got done with our course, we headed back to ECS to turn in our gear; it literally felt like graduating a military school and turning in your gear to head home. That Sunday, I became an open water scuba diver graduate.
On my way home, I kept reflecting upon all the veterans that miss out on an opportunity like this one because of lack of funds, PTSD insecurities, or because they are missing a part of the body and feel that they are unable to perform. Task Force Poseidon proved to me that no matter your limitations—whether mental, physical or both; you can experience peace and adrenaline at the same time underwater. Diving is such a great therapy for both mind and body (you get a nice workout out of it-ha!) that there should be more organizations focusing on this type of exercise to help our veterans. If you’re reading this and meet this criteria, please reach out to Task Force Poseidon to experience what others dream of, and get one of the best ultimatums of your life: “2 weeks to Dive.”
Also, I got to keep the Oceanic Mask; I thought it was for everybody in the organization to use for school but turns out it was a gift. I’m really appreciative of it. I hope to dive again with you soon!