The primary objective of DWH’s efforts is to build a community of disabled veterans who have shared similar military experiences and provide them another community of similarly experienced people who have found scuba therapeutic for their physical and/or mental injuries. Being part of a community is essential to being human. Most people are involved in several different communities in their neighborhood, at school, their family, through sports, hobbies or religion. As a community, we come together to fellowship and to support something we value and share. By combining the communities of scuba diving and disabled veterans, we are providing a safe space for our veterans to open-up and still be completely accepted.
Many of our hero divers have completed their military service and have returned to their hometowns, often far from their comrades and fellow warfighters. Many also feel alone and misunderstood, as evidenced by the current crisis in veteran suicides (more than 6,000 veteran suicides each year from 2008 to 2017 (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2019)). By engaging our hero divers in an adaptive and adrenaline-intense sport, we provide exactly what many of our disabled veterans need – a sport that allows them to fully participate despite their often-serious injuries and acquired disabilities while providing a satisfying experience in a social setting.
Diving with Heroes does not stop there, though. We challenge our hero divers to serve again by participating in something larger than themselves – marine conservation. Whether it is building underwater coral nurseries 60 feet below the surface or using toothbrushes to clean algae from the coral fragments growing in that nursery, our hero divers excel. Other service projects have included invasive lionfish population surveys, lionfish culls, repairing generators, building storage facilities or constructing structures for the coral nursery, marine debris clean-ups, green sea turtle nest excavations and hatchling release, and setting up and analyzing data from Remote Underwater Video Systems (BRUVS) to understand apex predator behavior.
The hero divers who have participated in a DWH excursion report improved quality of life by returning them to the brotherhood of fellow warfighters and a renewed sense of mission because of our marine science initiatives. Hero divers from every excursion also participate in a private Facebook group, sharing stories and supporting each other outside of our dive programs. Their new community of disabled veterans who have discovered scuba diving and serving others provides a place where they find a balance between physical fitness and mental health.
"It is fitting and proper that we [pay] special tribute to those whose constancy and courage constitute one of the bulwarks guarding the freedom of this nation and the peace of the free world."
President Dwight D. Eishenhower, 1953