Serving My Country & Community

by Darren Pace:
PS Divers deploy from helicopterVeterans returning from the nation’s longest military deployment in Afghanistan and other Middle East countries face an uncertain transition to civilian life. More than 21.4 million vets increased the country’s workforce in 2013, and competition for jobs becomes intense for these returning heroes. Demobilization promises continued increases of armed services personnel who will need civilian job placement. Public service jobs are often the first choice of men and women who have placed their lives in jeopardy, and public safety diving (PSD) is among the most popular careers for vets who are used to following strict chains of command, performing exciting physical tasks and ensuring security and safety of civilian and military communities.

Emergency Response Diving International (ERDI) courses provide training for people who are interested in continuing to serve public safety while earning competitive salaries. Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies employ diving personnel to conduct underwater inspections, recover bodies and evidence and map underwater areas for engineering, scientific and industrial purposes. True heroes from the armed services are increasingly choosing these careers to support their country and communities by putting their skills to work as police divers, rescue staff and members of emergency response teams.

PSD Public Safety Divers Handle Many Critical Emergency Services

Divers collect evidence, recover bodies, rescue people, interdict contraband and inspect coastal areas. The work is often done in challenging waters, hazardous conditions and limited time-frames, so the parallels with combat are significant. Divers recover weapons, vehicles and people, triangulate search areas, maintain chains of custody, photograph evidence underwater and arrange to bring critical materials to the surface.

Assignments and Positions for Divers

Armed services men and women make ideal candidates for public safety diving careers because they are physically fit, used to obeying orders, highly organized and experienced in working as part of a team. Job seekers can find positions as team leaders, primary divers, secondary divers and tenders who provide logistical help for underwater dive teams, researchers and evidence technicians in law enforcement. Typical public safety diving jobs include the following duties:

  • Collect evidence and recover bodies in criminal cases and disaster scenarios.
  • Map underwater areas for engineers, scientists and community organizations.
  • Provide security for state visits, concerts and celebrations.
  • Rescue people in maritime accidents.
  • Deal with underwater threats such as bombs, oil and gas leaks and hazardous chemicals.
  • Strengthen borders by inspecting river, lake and ocean coastlines.

Obstacles and Opportunities for Vets

Increased competition for jobs among the pool of returning vets complicates their employment outlook, and many younger job seekers have spent years honing their skills at interviewing, resume writing and networking, which puts qualified vets at a disadvantage. Vets often find that they must pass new tests and plow through licensing hurdles to get civilian jobs even when their experience has left them eminently qualified. Other challenges of adjusting to civilian life include:

  • Getting treatment for PTSD and disabilities
  • Paying for certification and training while needing to generate an income quickly
  • Using military-style skills in corporate environments
  • Transitioning from using the most advanced technology to operating with commercial equipment

Emergency Response Diving International (ERDI) training provides unique opportunities for armed services personnel who are used to working in highly structured chain-of-command situations with the most advanced equipment. Physically fit and often experienced in diving operations in hostile or hazardous situations, vets enjoy advantages when competing for jobs in public service, police and fire departments, emergency response teams and federal law enforcement agencies.

Experienced armed services men and women can qualify for these exciting careers in only a few months by getting certified through ERDI training. Many government incentives provide assistance for armed services people to transition to civilian life. These programs include disability assistance, training incentives and financing, the GI Bill and employer tax credits.

Veterans might face challenges when looking for civilian careers, but thousands of returning service men and women are exploring the benefits of continuing in public service as police divers, public safety divers and other law-enforcement and security-specialist occupations. Unlike their counterparts in the civilian workforce, vets who end up underwater don’t owe the bank but can bank on using their armed services skills in rewarding and lucrative careers.

Veteran’s Passion Re-ignited by PS Diving

by Jerry L. Davis, US Army (Retired):
3 ERDI PS Divers

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.

ERDI PS Diver prepping gear 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.