ATLANTA -- Soldiers from the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Benning, Georgia, traveled to Atlanta to swim in one of the world's largest aquariums June 20.
The Soldiers participated in Georgia Aquarium's Veterans Immersion Program, which allows veterans and active-duty servicemembers the opportunity to experience a close and personal view of the ocean's deep.
An aquarium spokesperson said the unique swim is made possible by donations from individuals, corporations and foundations, including The Home Depot Foundation, which is the founding partner of the aquarium's Military Salute programming.
"The Georgia Aquarium is committed to serving the brave men and women who served," said Paige Hale, manager of communications for the aquarium. "The Veterans Immersion Program supports veterans and active-duty members' goals for rehabilitation and allows them the chance to experience a positive, life-changing moment with some of our ocean's most spectacular creatures."
The WTB Soldiers donned wet suites and swam among numerous marine species, including a pair of whale sharks.
"At first it felt like I was just getting into a giant pool," said Staff. Sgt. Marcus Marshall, WTB. "When I saw up close how massive these creatures are and how graceful as they swam by, it gave me a new perspective on what it is like in their world."
Whale sharks are the largest species of fish in the ocean. Adults of the species typically span 20 to 30 feet in length, and they feed on plankton.
The aquarium's main tank holds more than 6.3 million gallons of water and is home to more than 700 different ocean species.
Sgt. 1st Class Shelia James said she understands firsthand how stressful medical recovery can be on a Soldier and why this program can be beneficial.
"It allows wounded Soldiers the chance to relax and meditate on something other than what they may be going through," said James. "This is something I hope others in the unit get the chance to experience."
Since 2008, more than 3,300 veterans and active-duty service members have participated in the 30-minute swim.
The Warrior Transition Battalion's adaptive reconditioning program has been an active partner with the Georgia Aquarium for several years. The program not only helps Soldiers, but it also allows Family members free admission to the aquarium to see their loved ones get into the tank.
"Word is getting out to other Soldiers in the battalion who want to go and do it," said Tara Bright, WTB recreational therapist. "It is a great program that offers our Soldiers a chance to do something they likely would never get to do on their own."
The tranquil swim is typically very peaceful and relaxing for veterans, but this swim included a moment of excitement when one whale shark got a touch too close.
"I was looking down, watching one of the whale sharks swim by when one of its fins caught me on the vest and pushed me into my swim partner," said James. "It definitely made me appreciate their sheer size."
To learn more about the Veterans Immersion Program or the Georgia Aquarium, visit the "Related Links" section on this page.