By Suzanne Ovel, Joint Base Lewis-McChord Warrior Transition BattalionApril 30, 2010
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. -- He always found freedom in the water, whether floating on rivers or lakes or diving in the ocean. Under-water, the calm settles in while the rest of the world is shut out, said Staff Sgt. Scott Frazier, a Warrior with Charlie Company.
"It's just one of the best things in the world," said Frazier, a medic who is also the assistant program manager for the scuba program, a collaborative effort between the Warrior Transition Battalion and Heartbeat Serving Wounded Warriors.
As a safety diver for the new program, Frazier ensures that Soldiers are physically and mentally safe to dive. "I'm still doing the job a medic does; I help the Soldiers."
Helping Soldiers is just why the scuba program exists and why Ken Yates, the program manager and a former Warrior, helped create the program with Heartbeat. In March, the scuba program held its first class, in which six Soldiers went through a three-week course diving in a pool and in the Puget Sound.
Scuba diving allows Soldiers who may have limitations to still participate in a sport, said Alanee LaFleur, a certified occupational therapy assistant with the WTB. In addition to a physical workout, scuba helps with cognition skills such as problem solving and memory, as well as communication skills.
"By mastering skills helping to increase self-esteem, it helps build a sense of trust and belonging. They're working on communication skills, and it helps them work on non-verbal skills as well," LaFleur said.
"You're building confidence," said Steve Wexler, a South Dive Center diving instructor for the program as well as a clinical psychologist. "It's very satisfying... it's just fun watching people do something they didn't think they could do."
The course begins with the basics of equipment familiarization, and ends with a written diving test along with three open water dives, with the goal of all participants becoming certified scuba divers.
For Sgt. Anton Stump, a Warrior with C Co., getting his certification will help expand on one of his favorite pastimes.
"It's something I've al-ways wanted to do because I want to go spear fishing," said Stump, who has fished for everything from salmon to catfish to trout.
Seeing something new with her Family inspired Spc. Krischelle Lukkasson, a Warrior with Alpha Co., to dive.
"My husband scuba dives, and I talked about doing it before. When it came up, I got in it," she said. Scuba is an activity that's easy on her joints that she can enjoy with her spouse when they dive together on a vacation to Mexico next year.
And taking scuba beyond the figurative classroom is just what Fraizer hopes Soldiers will do.
"This program is designed to give military personnel another aspect and a new type of freedom for a fulfilling life that's ahead of them, and something they'll hopefully continue to do for a long time," he said.