August 14, 2012
By Maj. Jeff Parker, 8th Theater Sustainment Command Public Affairs
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii (Aug. 14, 2012) -- Soldiers from the Pacific Regional Medical Command's Warrior Transition Battalion received their open-water scuba certification, July 22, as part of an ongoing outreach program supported by non-military organizations.
"This is a variation of our adaptive reconditioning program, which is our version of physical training," said Maj. Kirsten Graf, operations officer with the Warrior Transition Battalion, or WTB. "It's the stuff that helps Soldiers see that, 'I can do this.'"
The momentum and success following the first scuba certification course in May, and more recently in July, has Graf and other WTB staff members eagerly looking for support to offset the next course scheduled for mid-September.
"What we want our soldiers to get out of this program is, 'If I can go scuba diving, what else can I do?'" Graf said. "Our whole vision at the WTB is turning an illness or injury of a limiting event into unlimited potential."
The evolution of this particular outreach for the WTB's Soldiers in transition is as unique as some of the sea creatures seen by the Soldiers.
Not aware of the WTB's existence, local divers and scuba instructors Patrick Price, owner of Pearl Harbor Divers, and Lt. Col. Robert "Bob" Burmaster, were searching for a way to share their passion for diving by helping Soldiers exceed their expectations during a time when many are experiencing other competing life changes.
After receiving training from The Handicap Scuba Association's founder and dive master Jim Gatacre, in March 2012, and an initial start-up grant from the Wounded Warrior Project, Gatacre, Price and Burmaster were put in touch with the WTB.
To date, 24 Soldiers in transition and cadre received open water diving certifications from the two courses. Consisting of class room and online instruction, and basic skills instruction in a pool, the course's culmination were four ocean dives at Kahe Point Beach, more commonly known as Electric Beach.
"The coolest part about scuba diving is learning a skill set, also being comfortable with it and actually going under the water," said Sgt. Leslie Gloston, WTB. "The first time in the pool (with scuba gear) just blew my mind. I'm not afraid of the water but to actually be able to breathe under water like a fish, not panic and look around and see everything; that's amazing."
Even with their similarities, each instructor's individual dynamics fuels their passion.
Price said his desire to provide encouragement to those people who could use a lift came through his own life changes. Enduring all the emotions following a motorcycle accident that tore his foot off, Price recalls his immediate reaction after regaining consciousness.
"I looked down and saw that my foot was not on my leg," Price explained. "(I) laid my head back and thought, 'I'm 23 years old, just finished a season of semi-pro football, I'm an avid skier, avid surfer, avid scuba diver and I'm not going to be able to do (any of those activities) anymore.'"
Looking back, Price alludes that had it not been for that accident, there are many skills and talents he would have never known he had, or further developed.
He's now paying it forward and helping Soldiers realize skills they too were unaware they have or activities they can continue to participate in despite their injuries.
"We've been wanting to do this for a long time," Price said. "It's a privilege to provide a service for Soldiers for the service (they've) provided us.