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Wounded Warriors find peace beneath the water's surface

It is a Wednesday morning in the Puget Sound. The quiet drizzle is interrupted by the whistles of passenger and cargo trains passing as they gather near the shore. They are a group of local veterans and wounded warriors, united in their shared military service and their love for scuba diving.

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June 2010
Scuba Warriors deal with war's after-effects underwater

by Eric Wilkinson, King 5 News

SEATTLE - Suiting up for a swim in Puget Sound is the last thing most of these guys thought they'd be doing right now. They're much more attuned to humping 150 pound packs through the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan. But it's one more step in the transition to life here at home for vets dealing with the emotional wounds of war.

"Once that realization kicks in that - there is something wrong with me - it's very humbling and it's very scary. Very scary," says scuba diver Scott Frazier.

He and the pod of about 8 men call themselves "scuba warriors." They are combat veterans who have seen war at its darkest depths. Frazier did 21 straight months as a combat medic in Iraq. Despite all the blood and death and carnage he witnessed, Frazier says the toughest part of the mission was coming home.

"I thought, 'Wait a minute, I left my buddies. I've got to get back to my guys. I'm not supposed to be here. You guys are wrong,'" he said.

When soldiers return from war, they can often feel like fish out of water -- longing for the camaraderie and even thrill of combat. But in the water they can take those same feelings to different, more productive places.

Scuba diving allows the vets to be a "unit" once again by watching out for each other in a risky situation, says therapist Alanee LaFleur, who helps the men process their emotional issues. Once the men begin to trust one another - they begin to trust others as well - and all sorts of things begin to surface.

"They start disclosing things," says LaFleur. "They start opening up, versus being very withdrawn and isolated."

Anton Stump is dealing with PTSD after surviving a roadside bomb attack in Iraq. He still has a hard time talking about it. For him, the water drowns out the noise of a war still rattling in his head.

"It's a great feeling," he says. "All your pains go away; all your worries go away."

But what about when the soldiers come up for air and they return to the combat of daily life? A life mundane to most, but to a war veteran just sitting in traffic can trigger trauma.

In those cases, the soldiers are taught to to take themselves back under water and to be confident that even in the most trying of circumstances they need only breathe.

"I just think about the next time I'm gonna go diving," says Stump. "Everything is to prepare for your next step in life."

"We want you to understand that if you can do this, there are other barriers in life that you can break thorough," adds Frazier. "But make no mistake, your brothers and sisters are still gonna be there for you."

The Scuba Warriors program is run completely from public donations and needs your help to fund more returning vets. You can find out more by visiting

April 2010
Finding freedom through scuba

by Suzanne Ovel, from The Phoenix Word

He always found freedom in the water, whether floating on rivers or lakes or diving in the ocean. Underwater, 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.

"It puts me back into being able to help the Soldiers, because I have PTSD and I'm unable to do patient care," he said. "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 psychol-gist. "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 always 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.