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November 16, 2012

APL Staffer Helps Wounded Veterans Dive into Rehabilitation

scuba instruction
USMC Gunnery Sgt. Eliseo Rodriguez (right) instructs a wounded warrior at a Discover Scuba event.

Jeff Currer believes everyone should have the opportunity to see the two-thirds of Earth that is underwater, and for this scuba diving instructor and Navy veteran, "everyone" especially includes injured military service members.

Currer, a program manager in the Force Projection Department's Unconventional Littoral Warfare Program Area, owns PATRIOT SCUBA—a recreational scuba diving retail, training, and travel business in Northern Virginia—with his wife, Merial. She runs the business and retail end, and he, along with his course director, Steve Ford, leads a team of professional instructors that trains and certifies beginner, handicapped, and professional students.

Currer, who joined APL in July after 29 years in the Navy, learned to dive in 1982 at a Marine Corps base in Hawaii as a Naval Academy midshipman. But he didn't discover how passionate he was about it until 2003, when his oldest son wanted to get scuba certified. The reintroduction prompted Currer to earn certification as an instructor so that he could share the experience with as many people as possible.

After opening his business in 2009, Currer assisted one customer who helped his son recover from a broken spine by taking him to the pool every weekend. Inspired by the transformation he witnessed, Currer and several of his instructors became Handicapped Scuba Association (HSA) instructors to train students with similar challenges.

Since then, they've teamed up with the nonprofit organization Wounded Warrior Project to help injured service members with their rehabilitative and transitional processes by certifying them for scuba diving.

In August, PATRIOT SCUBA held a Discover Scuba session for service members to test the waters. The first Wounded Warriors class begins this month, led by HSA instructor and Marine Gunnery Sgt. Eliseo Rodriguez, PATRIOT's Wounded Warrior coordinator.

For amputees and paraplegics, the water provides both freedom and a new challenge. "Imagine if you couldn't walk and were confined to a wheelchair, then got in the water and were weightless; it's very liberating," Currer says. "These service members have generally come to grips with their conditions and are now trying to expand their horizons."

Scuba has also been shown to be very therapeutic for veterans coping with post-traumatic stress disorder. Currer attributes this to the tranquility underwater: "It's very quiet and peaceful, with beautiful vistas to watch."

When training any disabled diver, Currer and his fellow instructors also certify a buddy diver to help the student. Together, "they can go anywhere in the world and scuba," he says.

"It's gratifying to see someone who is nervous about scuba diving succeed," Currer continues, "but the reward is tenfold when they're someone who's not sure they can even manage their limitations on land."