eLearning is not going away; it will become an even bigger part of everyday education. What do we need to do to make it succeed?
This article is the first of three that will address the differences in generations in the industry: Things divers born after 1985 will not understand. A presentation at DEMA titled Inside the Millennial Mind – How to connect with #Millennials to increase business, presented by Lauren Kieren (Millennial) and myself (old guy). Finally an article by Lauren titled, Things divers born before 1985 will never understand.
An Open Letter of Personal Perspective to the Diving Industry by Brian Carney, President of SDI/TDI/ERDI
Wow! I would have never thought, back when I did my initial TDI Nitrox Instructor course in Miami Beach with Mitch Skaggs and David Sipperly, the agency would be where it is today 20 years later.
I was asked recently by a staff member here to write an article reflecting on where the agency came from and where it is today, but had no idea where to start. Upon some reflection I thought I would talk about my personal start to give everyone some insight into TDI’s roots.
Many instructors don’t realize that TDI actually started in Florida and then later moved to Maine. You may have seen the recent story about the napkin, but did you know that TDI operated out of someone’s kitchen initially? Well, my first exposure to TDI came when I traveled to visit a friend, David Sipperly (original manager of TDI), in the Florida Keys in 1994. Upon my arrival at his home, he said I needed to check out this new agency he had recently gotten involved with. I was interested and he promptly walked me over to his kitchen counter and opened up a couple of cabinets and pulled out a few TDI books, stickers, and even a t-shirt (this happened to be the entire inventory of the company at this time, stored in his kitchen cabinets, his girlfriend loved it). After some initial conversations about TDI, I wanted to know how I could become an instructor.
The next morning we went up to Miami Beach to meet with Mitch Skaggs (one of the founders) to take a Nitrox course at his dive shop “H20 Scuba”. At that time Mitch asked everyone who completed the Nitrox course to write their name on the wall. He did this because a lot of people at the time said Nitrox was dangerous and no one would want to take the course. Well years later, there was no more room on the walls, proving the skeptics wrong. So after signing the wall and driving back to Dave’s house, we went into his computer room, which had an old Mac (you know the ones with the tiny screens) and pulled up a spreadsheet. Next, to my surprise, he asked me to pick my instructor number from the sheet so he could print my laminated cert card. It was that simple back then.
A few years later, after countless more courses and materials were added to the curriculum; I was contacted by Bret Gilliam (one of the founders) and asked to work for him at TDI in Maine. The company had such explosive growth in Florida that Bret decided to relocate it to his home state so he could directly oversee the operation. So off I went from my beach house in Rhode Island to work for TDI and Bret, having very little idea what the future would hold. After working with TDI for a few months, Bret called me into his office and asked if I would proofread a new manual. The next thing I knew I was reading the SDI Standards and Procedures manual.
The first draft was okay, but after pointing out the deficiencies in the manual to Bret, he assigned me to rewrite it. To this I replied that I was already an instructor with another agency, how would the company benefit from this? Needless to say Bret was once again way out in front of me and everyone else with his vision, he was right. So off I went, and realizing I needed help to get this project done, I contacted Cliff Simoneau.
Cliff at the time was a rep for TDI and also a close friend (he was the one who actually recommended to Bret that he hire me). Cliff and I spent the next 3 months working on the manual. When we finally handed it over to Bret for approval, thinking we really nailed it, Bret edited with a red pen noting every error and old way of thinking about training. He called Cliff and I back into his office and handed us the manual back and said, “Now go write a program that makes sense! Not one of just regurgitated information from other agencies”. Thus began Cliff’s and my first foray into TDI and SDI being so innovative… and another lesson from founder Bret.
As the years progressed, more and more stories arose that were very similar to the one above, but the one thing I think that makes this agency so special is the people. The organization, while it was the idea of just a few in the beginning, has grown due to the numerous people who have contributed along the way. I could list countless names of those people and what they contributed, but I don’t think I have enough data storage on my computer for that document. Throughout our years of growth and expansion into other agencies, we have always been able to maintain one of our core principals, to be like a family.
Most of our members got involved with diving because of their passion for the sport and it is very easy for us to understand and relate to that passion as we feel the same way. Thus taking away the idea that we are a big corporation, and not treating our members like just another number. We understand that in order for our organization to grow, our members businesses have to grow. So we take the approach that we actually work for our members, and the members let us know what they need in order for us to be successful. It makes it a great organization to be involved with and not only do I work here, but even if I didn’t I would still teach for the agency based on that one thing alone. It is a business but it is run with a lot of heart.
I’m looking forward to the next 20 years.
Written by Brian Carney
“What I witnessed was a connection between a father and son that had forever changed my life and it triggered me to ask if I could write about what I saw.”
I met Steve Copeland on a rainy day this spring during one of his certification dives at Walt Disney World’s Epcot the Living Seas. What started as an opportunity to dive with Veterans during their training with Divers4Heroes turned into something a whole lot more.
Steve is a father of 5 children, who recently celebrated his 12 year anniversary with his wife. They live in Florida where he spends his days with his family learning to deal with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) from his time in the army. Steve joined the army at the age of 30 and dedicating 8 years of his life servicing his country. I was intrigued by how he came decided to learn how to dive and how it has impacted his life initially. What I witnessed was a connection between a father and son that has forever changed my life and it triggered me to ask if I could write about what I saw. I contacted Debbie from Divers4Heroes who, in turn, asked Steve if it was Ok. Shortly thereafter, Steve contacted me and said he was ok with it if telling his story could help other veterans suffering from PTSD.
Below is our conversation
Brian: Hello Steve, thank you for taking the time today to talk with me about your experience.
Steve: You’re welcome.
Brian: Great, let’s get started. Why did you enlist in the Army?
Steve: I enlisted because I wanted a better life for me and my family, and after taking some college courses while working as a carpenter, I started getting calls from recruiters, so I thought I would check into it. Originally, I was to be a Light Wheel Mechanic, but after going through MEPS (Military Entry Processing Station) I fell off a roof and broke my collar bone. The injury, needless to say, prevented me from attending basic training for about 5 months. After being cleared by my doctor, I went back to my recruiters and told them I was ready to go. At that time, I was informed by MEPS that I could not get the duty station of my choice in the MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) I had chosen prior. I almost walked out, but they persuaded me to pick from a list of Combat Arms MOS’s. My choices were 11B Infantry, 19K Tank Crewman, and 19D Cavalry Scout. The tradition of the Cavalry appealed to me, so I chose that and started my Army career at 30 yrs. old.
Brian: So after your Basic Training what happened next? Where did you end up going?Steve: I was deployed to Kosovo about a month and a half after my oldest son was born. He was born on September 11th, 2001, about 3 hours after the WTC was hit by terrorists. I was in Ft. Polk at the time training for our deployment to Kosovo when my wife, Shannon, went into labor. It was a very sad, confusing day, but my son Marshall was our bright shining light through all that darkness. As my unit further prepared for deployment, it was discussed within my command that I should stay home and be with my wife and new-born son. I protested and eventually won my case with them and deployed with the unit. We were deployed to Camp Monteith, Kosovo in support of the KFOR3B peace keeping mission there from 31 OCT 2001 to on or about 9 MAY 2002.
My son was born on September 11th, 2001, about 3 hours after the World Trade Center
Then in January of 2003, my unit was again deployed to Kuwait in order to prepare for the invasion of Iraq. We crossed the border into Iraq in March of that year and began our movement towards our first objective, Talil Air Base, in Nasiriyah, Iraq. We fought through a 2 or 3 day sandstorm on our way to Karbala Pass, where we would stay for about 5 days. Within a few days from that, we were in Baghdad. After the initial invasion, my unit redeployed back to the states in July of 2003.
My next deployment to Iraq came in January of 2005. This time it was to Baqubah and Muqdadiya, Iraq which are northeast of Baghdad. I was deployed as a Sniper team leader for the first 6 months, conducting over watch and counter IED missions in order to ensure safe passage for convoys on selected routes. During the first half of the deployment, my youngest son, Sawyer, was born. I came home from Iraq on R&R for about 18 days after his birth. Upon returning to Iraq, I was promoted from SGT E-5 to SSG E-6 and was given the choice to continue serving as a Sniper or rejoin the Scout PLT and serve as a member of the CSD (Command Security Detachment) section. I chose to join the CSD and went to work as a PSO (Personal Security Officer) for our Battalion Commander for the remainder of the deployment. Working for my Battalion Commander during this time had inspired me to re-enlist for another 5 year stretch. I had orders to report to Fort Knox where, at that time, the Army made Scouts. It was a chance to get off the front line for a while and I was looking forward to that. Sometime in January of 2006, my unit redeployed back to the states. It was after redeploying, we heard through the command that the unit was being moved over to another post where the rest of the Division is at currently and a new CAV unit was being stood up in the place of my former unit. Being a Cavalry Scout, I wanted to see that side of the “house”. It was a chance to lead soldiers at my new skill level and I welcomed the challenge. I had my orders cancelled and took a position within the new unit.
My final deployment came in March of 2007 with the unit that had only been stood up for 9 months at this point. We were under strength and the training leading up to the deployment was non-stop. Almost everyone in the unit was pretty new to their positions, meaning having been recently promoted to the next higher rank, and the mix of new Platoon Leaders and newly promoted Platoon Sergeants, who seemed to be coming from training units made things a little worse. The unit wasn’t stocked very well with recent combat experience and the Iraq mission was changing constantly.By the time we deployed, in my opinion, the morale was getting low among the troops. But we deployed nonetheless. The Troop I was in, as they are called in the Cavalry, was to be the “maneuver” Troop, meaning we flexed down to whoever needed the combat strength in their Area of Operations, or AO. Everything had changed from the unit configuration to the mission in Iraq. I was now working as a senior scout with Sniper experience, a Bradley Fighting Vehicle (BFV) Commander, and a dismount patrol leader and would be doing a lot of these missions back to back, ex. returning from a Sniper mission and 2 or 3 hrs later being called upon to go back out as a BFV section leader because of some other element being hit by an IED and needing security on the scene. So as you can see, there was little time for rest here. I returned home from this deployment around August 2007.
Brian: Four deployments over 5 years sounds like a lot, what toll did it take on you?
Steve: I sustained an illness rather than an injury from these multiple deployments and not getting the help I needed after coming back from them. You see, each time a unit comes back from a deployment, the soldiers are put through a reintegration process that takes about 10 days, as per the Army, (this was back in 2000 to 2008). We are made to fill out Post Deployment Health Surveys and this is where some of my “red flags” were starting to go up.
I was on the initial push to Baghdad at the start of the war in 2003, so with that brought a lot of carnage. The things I saw that first time up were, for the lack of a better way to put this, really f****d up. I saw a lot of dead, burning, decomposed, bodies of not only Iraqi soldiers but some civilians as well. The smell was horrible and there were flies everywhere. I witnessed full-blown firefights between our BFVs and Republican Guard APCs within a couple hundred meters or so. I was on a patrol in Karbala where an enemy soldier was firing mortars at us and was getting close until I spotted him and a fire mission was called to destroy him. I witnessed the chaos of Iraqi citizens returning from wherever they ran to while avoiding all this. I watched as the people of Iraq looted their own country. I saw an Iraqi man burn to death when his car caught fire after an element down the road from us shot a grenade into it. Our platoon had two of the first three casualties in the war and that really hit home with me. Our Company lost its 1SG in late April due to a vehicle accident as well.On our second deployment to Iraq in January of 2005, we hit the deployment rotation again. The unit’s missions were, as I understood them, to facilitate rebuilding the infrastructure, (water treatment, power, schools, etc.), facilitate the country’s voting on a new government, provide security, and train and equip the newly reformed Iraqi Army. This time there were these things called IEDs, or roadside bombs. We had just started hearing about them and really all we had to go off of was what the units we replaced were telling us about them. We lost quite a few soldiers due to those things. They were a constant threat and we all worried about them. I for one always thought I would die over there because of those things and the amount of time and close proximity I was exposed to them.
One of my jobs over there that time was as a Sniper Team Leader and a lot of my missions were to sit and watch a stretch of road for AIF units digging or emplacing these things and kill them. That was the mission directive. I won’t go much deeper into it than that, but I spent a lot of time sitting for up to 48 hrs at a time close enough to the road where if an IED had gone off near us, we would have probably been KIAs at that point. Now being that close to the road sounds like a bad decision to make, but when you only have 48 hrs, and the only thing to hide in grows 10 to 15 feet from the road, you just hope and pray there’s not one near you.
The other job I had was as our Battalion Commander’s Personal Security Officer. He was great guy to work for, but I really thought he was going to get me killed. He liked to go chasing down whatever insurgent was shooting at us at the time. That means we had quite a few bullets whiz by our heads. I had a lot of trigger time working with that guy, but I was inspired by him towards the end. I think we lost two soldiers to suicide/accidental causes and maybe around ten or twelve to IED blasts. I was in two blasts that I can remember during this tour. I was on scene for one real bad one that blew three soldiers out of a gun truck and the fourth one burned alive in it.Providing security for the voting polls was a pretty serious mission as well. There was a lot of time being exposed to an enemy that we could not see because they blended in with the local population very well. In addition to IEDs, there was also a very serious enemy sniper threat everywhere we went. I don’t think there was one time out on patrol when we didn’t hear either an IED blast or a single shot being fired somewhere off in the distance, as well as the skirmishes between units in direct fire contact with enemy forces. At the end of this tour, I had reenlisted for another 5 year hitch. I was a newly promoted E-6 and I was looking to make a career out of all this. Shortly after my unit redeployed back stateside, I found out that the unit I had spent the first 5 years in was being replaced by a Cavalry unit. Well since I was a very dedicated and motivated Scout, I had my orders cancelled to Fort Knox and I stayed on and found employment as a Platoon Sergeant in one of the line Troops. We had brand new guys just coming out of basic, brand new officers and no organization whatsoever. I put together some admin stuff that I borrowed from the previous unit to help get things rolling, and started getting to know the soldiers I would be leading, as well as my Platoon Leader.
By March of 2007, we had trained very hard and long for the past nine or so months and had received a visit from our Commander In Chief, George W Bush. He put us on the list of units that were going to be part of the troop surge in Iraq. On March 10, 2007, I was getting on a plane and heading back to Iraq for the third time. It was here where I would realize my limits as a human being, both physically and mentally.
By this time, I had been moved down to Senior Scout due to getting an E-7 in for the Platoon Sergeant slot. I was trained as a Bradley Fighting Vehicle commander, a Humvee section leader, a dismount patrol leader, as well as being a trained Sniper. I was one of only three in the Squadron and the only one that would be able to take on the job, due to a decision made by higher ranking officers. Our platoon was the maneuver or “flex” platoon at the time, so we got moved around a little bit and our mission changed on short notice. This was beginning to frustrate me, as I was already not welcoming change in my routines. But we shifted focus on a few occasions and I adapted as well as I could to them.
By the time we moved South near a place called Jisr Diyala, I was starting to feel worn out. I had been sent to specialized training for IED and EFP familiarization at the beginning of our deployment. When I returned to my Troop, we were already about to start conducting patrols out in sector. It seemed that no one in the CMD wanted to hear the information myself and the other Senior Scouts had brought back. This would cost three lives later on, and put a few others out of the fight due to injuries sustained. During our time in the vicinity of Jisr Diyala, we lived in a place that looked to be some kind of industrial complex. The place had what was called, “Yellow Cake”, all over the place. It was probably insulation, but the air and water quality were below par for living in. I would later find out that this place was a nuclear research facility at some point.The mission this time was to clear a route to the West and right behind the COP (Combat Outpost), where we were now stationed, and conducted security patrols and established Battle Positions along the river, in order to interdict any weapons smuggling or AIF (Anti Iraqi Forces) that were being flushed out of Baghdad from an ongoing Division wide operation designed to control weapons and ordnance being smuggled in from surrounding countries. The first three days on Route Jennifer were clearing operations during which we cleared the route and 50 meters on either side, of IEDs while on foot. This was a first for me. The units had equipment to do this, as well as an Engineer unit whose sole purpose in life was to clear IEDs. So off we went.
The Scout platoon was to be the security element for the Engineers, and every once in a while we would find ourselves in front of the Engineers and hear someone shout “Hold up! We found an IED!” So we were pretty much walking past these things and not knowing it. Not a good feeling. On the way back to the outpost, on the first day, my BFV hit a deep bury IED and it destroyed the vehicle. I wasn’t in it, but I was right behind it. The bomb left a 6 foot deep hole in the road and cost me my vehicle.The second day we encountered some really tall bamboo reeds growing on the sides of the route, so it was decided that we would burn them out in order to expose any hidden IEDs . The fires were intense and some spread to a couple of homes that were close to the road. Needless to say, the locals were not happy about that. They were compensated later by our command. After the three day route clearance op was over, I took on the duties and responsibilities of the Troop Sniper section leader. I was given three soldiers from the mortar section. We trained for a week on the skills needed to be successful and off we went.
We worked an area of palm groves, providing security for the BFVs that would patrol the route on a constant, round the clock basis, as well as for the dismounted elements that would be engaging the locals for intel on various subject matter like militia activity, illegal police checkpoints, etc. During this time, my team would spend about four or five days at a time out on these missions and after being back at the outpost for a couple of hours, I would usually find myself hopping on my BFV to go out for another fifteen to eighteen hours for my route patrol rotation. I got burned out quickly; I had lost the loyalty from within my platoon, and was not getting along with anyone around me.
On July 13, 2007, a soldier from one of the other platoons stepped on a landmine in the area I had worked with my Sniper section. I was out on a routine patrol down Route Jennifer with a BFV section when this happened. We responded to the event in order to provide a Medevac to Dustoff, (Dustoff is the code name for the Medevac chopper). When we arrived at the site, the soldier’s body was shredded up pretty bad from the shrapnel and was being worked on by the medic employed by his section. I jumped off my Bradley to help as my driver lowered the rear ramp of my vehicle and what I saw put an intense fear in me. I still see this image like it was yesterday and I have carried a tremendous amount of guilt and shame over it ever since.
That was my last mission in Iraq. I was sent back to our main FOB, (Forward Operating Base), and after a couple of weeks, was sent home on R&R. Upon returning to Fort Benning, I immediately went to mental health to talk to someone about my issues and got no real help. Instead, they wanted to send me back to combat. After I protested and plead my case to a few other people, I was admitted to a hospital and have been in therapy for this ever since. That was five years ago.So as you can see, I have witnessed the worst in humanity and it has taken a toll on me. Those Iraq deployments took my soul from me. It is now hard to have compassion, to not feel numb to things around me. I have trust, security, control, and intimacy issues now that get in the way of so many things in my life. In short, combat in Iraq has destroyed the man I was. Now, I’m just trying to put things in some kind of order.
“I have trust, security, control, and intimacy issues now that get in the way of so many things in my life. In short, combat in Iraq has destroyed the man I was.”
In addition to all this, I sustained a bad neck injury from conducting hand to hand combat prior to deploying to Kosovo, and was hit by a car while riding my Harley on New Year’s Eve 2007, which resulted in two fractures in my lower back. Well, that’s the who, what, why, when, and where of my injuries/illness. I know it’s long, but I hope that answers your question. Let’s move on, shall we?
Brian: Wow is the only word I can come up with, I can certainly understand where the stress came from. What type of treatment have you been getting for the PTSD?
Steve: So far I have been in four different hospitals for PTSD treatment, with two occasions being Baker Acted for suicidal/homicidal behaviors. I have been in regular therapy in the Gainesville VAMC’s PTSD treatment team since February of 2009. I have attended a few other groups at the local Vet Center, and tried Cognitive Processing Therapy three times now. I am in the VA’s Independent Living Program, and The Caregiver’s Program, (my wife is my caregiver). And of course I attended the seven week PTSD program at Bay Pines. So far, I haven’t had much help at coping with all this through the VA. I have been on several different types of psychotropic medications for my issues as well.
Brian: It certainly sounds like you have been trying everything to get help. What has been the most challenging thing about your recovery?
Steve: The most challenging thing about my recovery. Hmmm…well first of all I’m going to say controlling my anger has been an ongoing problem. Getting things done in a timely manner is another one. Like I said earlier, I don’t have a real sense of trust in others, I can’t go many places where there are a lot of people without having anxiety attacks, I don’t go to see fireworks with my family because I’m prone to flashbacks, my sense of security causes me to check door locks several times a day, I get hyper-vigilant a lot, I have problems remembering any instruction given to me or details to things, I have real bad depression and I worry about every little thing in life. So the challenge lies in getting past quite a few stuck points and the way I think about things (black & white thinking, as it’s called). It’s either very good or dangerously bad with me. There is no in between.
Brian: OK lets change the subject a little bit, tell me a little bit about yourself prior to the injury. Where you came from? What was life like prior to PTSD?Steve: I grew up in the same town I live in now, which is Orange Park, FL. My father was in the Army for about thirty five years and he was a good provider, but not around much during my developmental years. My mother worked various secretarial jobs and the primary care giving duties were placed upon my grandmother. I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood, had more than I needed, but also learned to earn money for myself from the time I was about twelve or so.
I dropped out of high school at sixteen to pursue an education in Culinary Arts, but soon dropped out of that as well. Two years later, I would begin a career as a residential framing carpenter. I worked building houses in the Jacksonville, FL area, eventually working my way up to lead carpenter, until I decided to enlist in the Army. I was pretty easy going for the most part, with the exception of an occasional temper flare-up. I had a pretty bad alcohol problem during the latter part of the 1990s, but kept out of legal trouble with that. I could remember things, recall information given to me, and had good relationships with people. I have four biological children, Ashley-20, Terrie-16, Marshall-11, Sawyer-7. Ashley and Terrie are from my first marriage. I also have one stepson, Dante-21, who is my wife’s son from her first marriage. My wife’s name is Shannon and we have been happily married for twelve years now. Prior to my deployments, I think we were a pretty normal family with the same problems as everyone else. Shannon and I have been married since right before I shipped off to basic training, so I guess we were a normal Army family.
Brian: What has life been like since you have retired from the army? How has your life changed?
Steve: My first deployment was to Kosovo and it really set me up for success in the Army. After I came home from Iraq the first time, I felt invincible. I felt like I had gone through a war and survived. I didn’t want to do it again, but yes, I felt like a bad ass. I was proud. But I had gained a sick sense of humor while I was there and my family and friends didn’t understand that. I think they were seeing the change that I had not been able to.
My second tour to Iraq was for twelve months. I had a new job with new responsibilities and kept my mind on my work. I bought a brand new Harley that year as a reward to myself while home on R&R. When I returned home at the end of the deployment, it was all I had my mind on, even though my son Sawyer had been born six months prior to that. Looking back on it now, I think that was where I would start isolating myself from people. I didn’t want to have close relationships with anyone. My anger was getting more and more out of control and things were starting back up at work, with the new unit coming in to replace the old one.By the time I was done with my third deployment and in the process of being medically retired from the Army, all my relationships had suffered serious setbacks. No one around me understood me anymore, my two daughters weren’t talking to me, my sons were afraid of me, and I was in trouble with Child Support Enforcement over unpaid child support. I have spent a lot of time and effort rebuilding relationships with certain people, but my circle of trust is small. I have been in three or four fist fights with my stepson over the past 5 years, been in two hospitals for suicidal behavior, and just completed a seven week in-patient treatment program. I am still in therapy at least once or twice every two weeks for regular counseling.
Brian: What made you take the first step to try diving?
Steve: When I was an in-patient at Bay Pines VAMC, we had Recreational Therapy three times a week. Once I heard there was going to be a scuba diving outing, I signed up. I have always wanted to try it and so I jumped at the opportunity. Our rec-therapist took us over to Bill Jackson’s in Pinnellas Park, FL. where we met Deb & Bo Twillman. Once we received our instruction and were let loose in the water to play, I forgot all about my issues. I had always wanted to try scuba, just never had the opportunity to go.
Now, I thought jumping out of planes in the Army was cool, but this was way better. The experience left a lasting impression. About two or three days later, I looked Divers4Heroes up on the web, e-mailed them about how I would go about getting certified, and got a call back from Deb. She told me they would be conducting a certification class about two weeks after I was due to get released from Bay Pines. So I signed up.
Brian: What have you learned about yourself during the course?
Steve: Probably the biggest thing I have learned since getting into this sport is that I can relax at a level I have not known for some time now. It also promotes deep breathing. But, I have a renewed confidence in myself. Now maybe this works because I am a control freak and very meticulous about the small details of things, and my attention to detail issues cannot be questioned here by my regular audience. I like that, being in control. Now, I just have to find some local dive buddies and move into bigger waters.
Brian: Well I can certainly help with that. What was the most memorable moment during your course?
Steve: The most memorable part of the course for me was diving at Epcot and seeing my family there. I also enjoyed swimming with the Sand Tigers and when we coaxed the 75 lb Goliath Grouper out of his hole, the fish started right for me. I got freaked out a bit and started to move away when Deb’s 13 year old son Brandon grabbed my arm and gave me the okay signal. I was very impressed by this young man’s confidence in the water. That definitely left a lasting impression on me.
Brian: When do you plan to dive again?
Steve: I’m not sure when I’ll dive again, but the sooner the better. I have everything but a wetsuit and a tank as far as personal dive gear goes. Right now, I’ll probably just keep to renting an air tank and getting in my pool and practicing the basic skills Bo taught me until the opportunity arises to get out with a group and do some real diving.
Brian: How has diving helped you in your recovery?
Steve: I think the whole idea of diving as a way to learn how to relax or rediscover one’s self is a great tool for anyone who has PTSD. From my experience, it gives a freedom from the issues many of us face from day to day. It gives a chance to let loose and not think about any intrusive memories or thoughts. It soothes the angry demons within. It really lets you tune in on your breathing, in turn helping you relax. Being suspended in water also helps my back and neck issues as well. It takes the pressure off damaged disks in my back. The diving experience has also rebuilt a level of confidence within me as well.
What initially triggered me to ask Steve if I could write an article about him was the interaction I saw between himself and in particular one of his sons. I have wanted to write an article about how diving is being used as a therapeutic remedy for soldiers who are coming back from deployment for a while, but when I witnessed the interaction, it triggered me to want to do the article.
I had been invited by Bo and Debbie Twillman from the Diver’s 4 Heroes group to attend some of their certification dives over the past couple of years. The opportunity presented itself this past spring for the final dive of their course in the large tank at Epcot’s Living Seas. I met them, along with their group of veterans, in the parking lot of Epcot, at which point I was introduced to everyone. This is when I first met Steve. He looked tired from a day full of diving but, like everyone else, he was excited about getting in the water with all the marine life. We were asked by our park guide at this time if we had any guests who were going to watch us while we were in the tank so they could be sure to get video of the diver with his family while he was diving. Essentially, the divers swam up to the window waived to their families and turned around while underwater to have a video of all of them together. A few of the divers said yes, Steve being one of them.
We went about being fully briefed and fitted for gear, then up to the tank entry point and into the water with all the marine life. Well the dive was incredible on its own, but it was what I witnessed after the dive while we were reviewing the video taken of us underwater that made a lasting impression on me. There we were, all the divers who had just completed a fantastic dive, drinking our coffee and tea to warm up, sitting on couches bantering about the dive when the video of the dive was turned on. It had all the standard stuff you see in dive videos, with divers smiling at the camera, blowing bubbles, the proverbial underwater group shot, and just in general having a great time.
The dive was incredible, but it was what I witnessed after the dive while we were reviewing the video taken of us underwater that made a lasting impression on me
It was after the group shot that the Dive Master signaled to everyone who had family to go over to the windows where the families were for the group photo. Steve found his family, swam up to them, waved and turned around; it was what Steve didn’t see while underwater but did see while watching the video. Unbeknownst to him, Steve’s youngest son Sawyer was jumping up and down waving his arms in joy right behind his father. Upon me seeing this on the video I looked over at Steve who was sitting next to me and saw an expression that can only be described as complete happiness.
It was at that moment that it looked as a father and son had reconnected again in a way that only they can and his son once again saw him as the coolest Dad in the world.
Brian: During the dive in the Living Sea’s at Epcot, I noticed one of your son’s being very animated outside the tank watching you dive, what was all that about?
Steve: I think what that was about was that I had been away for seven weeks and that little boy had missed me terribly during that time. I had only been home for two weeks prior to attending the certification class, and then was gone for another week. He was really excited to hear from me whenever I would call, so I believe that along with him seeing his daddy as an Epcot attraction was overwhelming to him. I was really glad to see them there and thankful that we know someone who works there that got them in to see that for free. It was truly an amazing experience for all of us. And yes, he does think I’m the coolest dad ever and that is a good feeling.
Brian: While watching the video in the video room, when we saw your animated son on the video for the first time, I noticed a look on your face that I can only describe as “connecting” with your son. What was going through your mind then?
Steve: I had no idea that was happening at the time it was being filmed and I’m really glad they captured it. As far as connecting, I feel like I connected with all of them. I only wish my other kids could have been there to see it as well. But seeing that really surprised me and I’m glad everyone got a kick out of it. It’s those little things like that, that let me know I’m wanted and needed. It’s a really good feeling to have.
After the dive and conclusion
Brian: What do you want to say to other veterans in a similar position to you?
Steve: If you have had no luck or very little progress with clinical treatments for PTSD, then try diving. It will, at least, give you an alternative way to relax and see a different world. I have been in the VA’s system for four years now, and I can say without a doubt, that this experience has done more for my recovery than all the therapy and medicines the VA has given me. Even if all you can do is just sit in the bottom of your pool, it will do wonders for you. Try it. You’ll love it.
It is amazing that something as simple as blowing bubbles, a skill many of us were taught by our mothers when we were infants, can have such a healing effect. I know that based on this experience for me, SDI will continue to provide support to programs such as Diver’s 4 Heroes and SUDS in the future.
As for Steve’s future in diving, he is currently looking for more dive buddies and can’t wait to get back in the water as much as he can. He also plans to get many of his family members certified so they can enjoy the sport together.
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