by Jerry L. Davis, US Army (Retired):
I joined the United States Navy in June of 1990. I learned to dive around the time I turned 20 years old, and I dove consistently for seven years. At that time, I considered myself a decent diver. In December of 1997 I left the Navy and joined the North Carolina National Guard, and that is where I finished a 22 year career in the military. I completed multiple combat tours during my time in service, including three tours in Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. While in the service, I performed duties as a Hospital Corpsman, Air Traffic Controller and as a Military Police Officer. From December 1997 until the summer of 2010, I did not do any diving.
To complicate things, on April 6, 2008, I was injured in Baghdad, Iraq. While coming to the aid of fallen soldiers injured during an indirect fire attack on our Forward Observation Base, a mortar round landed approximately ten feet away from me. I was thrown into a concrete wall and suffered several injuries. For me, the hardest after-effect to overcome was PTSD.
Upon returning home, I ran into several problems. The first problem was the constant nightmares of what happened. Second, were the aches and pains (that I was able to overcome with time). Third, I worked in a mental hospital with children. This was a major issue because I was trying to take care of people with psychological problems, and I had my own, with which I did not know how to cope. For years, I had considered myself a man’s man. I had jumped out of airplanes at 30,000 feet and dove in oceans around the world. But now I was having to deal with problems I had never faced. I didn’t have a job, and I didn’t have any hobbies to fall back on. The question was, what do I do now?
In the summer of 2010, my son and daughter both decided they wanted to scuba dive. So I took them to a local dive shop and enrolled them in a basic scuba course. We did a few wreck dives off the coast of North Carolina that summer, and my son decided he wanted to continue diving. I contacted my local county Search and Rescue Dive Team, and got the information required to join. My son and I then started volunteering with the county dive team. During that time, I was introduced to the guys at Air Hogs SCUBA. They have a dive shop that seems to concentrate on public safety diving. Now don’t get me wrong, they teach lessons to the public for recreational diving too, but that was not what I was looking for.
As previously stated, I started diving in the Navy. Then for a couple of years, I dove as a recreational diver. It was not until I got into public safety diving that I found a real passion for what I was doing. Why is this particular dive center and PS diving so important to me? Well you see, I am a veteran, and with this role comes possible benefits for individuals in a position such as mine. Thomas Powell, one of the shop owners, told me about a program called Vocational Rehab. This is a benefit available to veterans that for whatever reason cannot return to their previous job after leaving the service. As I was a medic assigned to a MP Company in the middle of Baghdad, I was subjected to things which made it difficult for me to return to the medical field after I retired; trust me, I tried.
But why scuba diving? What makes diving easy for some people to do, when in reality, it is one of the most dangerous sports in the world? Let’s face it, in the open water class everyone learns all the things that can go wrong, and why it is so important to follow procedures. And the further someone advances in the dive program, the more dangerous it becomes. So again I ask, why scuba diving?
After my injury, I was bombarded with stress, but when I was in the water, I found that everything became peaceful. Yes, there are certain dangers that come with diving, but to me it is a place to lose yourself. Underwater, a diver has to relax and pace his or herself. Do not rush, or you will over exert yourself and deplete your air too quickly. This type of scenario can obviously shorten your dive, so you have relax. Also, even though a diver’s buddy is only a few feet away, you are basically by yourself, and not listening to someone consistently talking about how awful their week has been. Out of the water, this has also helped me slow my life down a bit. I don’t get as stressed out as much as I used to, and I am able to think faster because I am working with a different part of my brain. What I mean is, I don’t think the way I used to think. I find myself relaxing more.
So how have I been able to turn a tragedy into something great? I applied for Vocational Rehabilitation through the Department of Veterans Affairs, and was approved for scuba diving. I have started my training as a Public Safety Dive Instructor, but I have a long way to go. So far, I have made it through the Master Diver course. Currently, I am working on specialty courses and Dive Master. By the end of 2015, I plan to have my instructor certifications with SDI and ERDI, and start teaching other veterans and public safety dive teams in my area. I have found a new passion for diving. More than likely, I would have been like most other divers; taken a basic class, done a few dives, and stopped diving. But due to the fact that I found diving relaxing, and I found a dive shop that was willing to work with an old veteran, I was able to work through my PTSD injury and therefore ended up with a more relaxing life.
I would like to thank the guys at Air Hogs SCUBA, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and International Training for all the hard work everyone has done to help me accomplish my goals. Too often, the public hears about negative statistics associated with veterans returning from combat. I have had to overcome a lot, and I am now trying create a new statistic for those who have had similar problems. If this helps one person, then I have succeeded in my quest.