WTB Soldiers learn scuba diving skills
August 7, 2013
More than 20 Soldiers assigned to the Fort Belvoir Warrior Transition Battalion took to the water at the Officers Club Pool Saturday to participate in a scuba diving training clinic.
The event, sponsored by the Wounded Warrior Project, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), and Patriot Scuba in Occoquan, Va. provided an opportunity for wounded, injured and ill servicemembers on post to learn the basics of diving and experience underwater exploration in a safe environment.
According to Steve Smutak, Fort Belvoir WTB Adaptive Sports coordinator, the clinic represented yet another first in the growing array of athletic opportunities available to servicemembers to aid in the healing process.
"This is brand new; it's the first time we've done this here and we've got 21 Soldiers involved today," he said. "We sent out a questionnaire to the (Fort Belvoir Headquarters) battalion to find out what (the Soldiers) are interested in. I don't want to offer activities that I necessarily like; I want to offer things they like and the things they want. And as it turned out scuba was at the top of the list. So we had a meeting with our physical training people and Jeff (Currer, master scuba diving trainer who owns and operates Patriot Scuba with Company President of the Board, Jennifer Mathis) and this is what we got."
Smutak added that the clinic offered opportunities for everyone, regardless of their experience with the sport.
"We've got people out here who are already certified divers but haven't dived in a while; we have certified divers who want to go for advanced certification, and we have people who've never experienced diving," he said. "We're just going to keep building the program. We've had a nice turnout today, including a lot of cadre, and I'm really excited about this."
The scuba clinic, like the WTB's other sports activities that include kayaking, waterskiing, wheelchair basketball, adaptive cycling, and many more, is part of Warrior Transition Command and the Fort Belvoir garrison's effort to enable healing servicemembers to stay active during their recoveries.
"It's so nice to have this program here," said Tina Robinson, Fort Belvoir Aquatics Program director. "These activities keep our WTB Soldiers active and busy and it gets them out of the barracks to enjoy some things."
The clinic began with a safety briefing and equipment orientation session conducted by Patriot Scuba Diving Instructor, Martin L'Heureux, who highlighted the importance of gear maintenance and a common-sense approach to the activity. Certified dive masters, Bret Stevens, Gib Owens and Caitlin Hale, assisted the students in donning their equipment before hitting the water for the first time.
Students spent the four-hour session learning the basics of using regulators, dive masks and fins and gradually progressed to the deep end of the pool to develop their breathing and underwater orientation skills. Participants wrapped up the training with a free-dive session to apply to the morning's training.
For the first-time students, the scuba clinic proved highly enjoyable -- an experience which awakened an interest in becoming certified and pursuing the sport to the fullest in the future.
"This was my first time diving and I liked it; it was really fun," said student Amber Joyce, who participated with her husband, Justin Joyce. "My husband is certified and we've wanted to go out together and dive. After today, I'm definitely going to stick with it."
"I'd never done this before and I really liked it; I'm planning to get certified, if not this year then next year," said student, Lisa Fleek. "There's a great motivation factor with this -- if I can work at getting through (the training) then I'll let myself go through certification."
For more information regarding Fort Belvoir's WTB Adaptive Sports program, call Steve Smutak at (703) 805-6898 or (440) 334-0228, or email Steve.A.Smutak.firstname.lastname@example.org.