How Diving Helped Me Even After The System Didn’t

By: Staff Sgt. Kevin Renuart

My name is Staff Sergeant Kevin Renuart.  I served for 12 years in both the Marine Corp and the U.S. Army.  I have a combined total of 17 months in Iraq.  I have PTSD and a traumatic brain injury, along with neck, hip, and back issues from my years of service. Personally, I take immense pride in my period of service, what I learned, what I experienced, and what it allowed me to do.

The military does not provide a clear understanding of post-service benefits…

I was first introduced to scuba diving by Thomas Powell. He owns Air Hogs Scuba, a local dive shop that is a recognized school for the VA through one of their programs. We met on a whim during a random sales interaction during a busy holiday period. He asked if I was a veteran and that eventually led to a discussion on life after service. The military does not provide a clear understanding of post-service benefits, so he made the offer to sit and chat sometime about what was out there if I ever had time.  I finally decided to go and check it out.  I met with everyone at the shop and they explained what options were out there and what they had done in the past with other veterans.  After a few months of red tape and doing the online portion of the basic open water course, I was going to see if scuba diving was going to be worthwhile. I knew there were many things I could do, but I had suddenly found a group of people who understood military service and genuinely wanted to see me find a way to enjoy a new and employable lifestyle.

The goal was to find work through training and education that met my needs as a service member who felt the after-effects.

The first time I got to just enjoy a dive and not have to do any practical exercises, I was with Air Hogs Scuba helping them train the Durham County Sheriff’s Office search and recovery team.  I remember hovering at 20 feet and being amazed that I wasn’t hurting and that the deeper I went, the better I felt.  I can remember feeling comfortable.  I was hooked on the sport and realized that something about scuba diving physically and mentally helped me. For five days I dove with them and was getting more interested in not only recreational scuba but also the public safety side of diving provided by Emergency Response Diving International.  Due to my background in the military, I had good grasp of that aspect of diving.  I had found the thing for me. I was surrounded by people who in some way volunteered to serve. Some served their country, some their community, but everyone was dedicated in some fashion to helping others. In doing that, they had found a way to integrate the sport of scuba diving.

Unfortunately, The VA believes that due to my injuries I am not medically able to dive and took my program away.

When this happened, Air Hogs Scuba and I tried to write a curriculum that would allow me to focus on a non-diving public safety side of the house and keep me out of the water. I was going to learn to service equipment, teach land-based courses, and possibly teach unmanned systems. Despite the effort, the VA still closed out my program.  They were quick to offer me other things, but not what I wanted to do.  Air Hogs Scuba still allows me to help them teach and I still dive.

Diving was something that I had never really considered a thing I would do.

It sounded fun but was the type of thing you did on vacation. Suddenly I realized diving could put me into a neutrally buoyant environment where pain and tension eased away and I could relax. Simultaneously, there were people who could use diving to help others in many ways. These ways could include Scubility programs for divers outside of a standard open water track or public safety programs for rescue and recovery teams. I could teach and lead with a group of people who understood me, had the same experiences as me, and understood when it was time to be serious and when it was time to cut up like veterans do. I did not have to be a standard sales clerk who represents a business. I could be me, a Soldier/Marine who still wanted to do!

Eventually, I will get back into the physical health I need to be in to dive. During that time, I am still going to be next to the water showing tenders how to manage line or working with team members to better understand how to take care of divers. It does not matter what the system will let me do. I know what is good for me and the type of instruction, education, and support divers need. I will find my own success and diving will help me do that.

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