Allison W.

I put my bag of dive gear on my “donate” pile back in April as I was packing up my house. I had a fresh DD214 in my hand and I needed to make a clean break from Fort Bragg.  That’s the story I told myself over and over as I shoved all my memories and household goods into boxes. I didn’t think I’d need that gear ever again. After all, I hadn’t been diving in over a decade and it was just more stuff I would need to move.

I blasted a Facebook message out to my old friend Rick. I knew he was an avid diver and recently founded Task Force Poseidon. I figured he would know a female diver or two who would love to have some gear and I’d have one less box to move. Win, win. Rick got right back to me, but instead of passing me a name and address to donate my gear to, he asked me one very simple question. “Why don’t you want to dive anymore?”

Truthfully, I didn’t have a reason, or any excuses, as to why I wasn’t diving anymore. I loved diving. I dove a ton overseas, in spite of sketchy training and unconventional dive platforms.  I just hadn’t done my due diligence Stateside for whatever reason.  I had simply tossed my stuff in the closet and went on about Army business and deployment life for the next twelve years or so.

The longer I chatted with Rick that day about diving, the more my energy and enthusiasm for it came back.Diving wasn’t something I needed to forget, but rather something I needed to revisit and reinvent in this next chapter of my life.Rick and I kept in contact and before I knew it, I was headed to Destin, Florida to get back underwater with Emerald Coast SCUBA and Task Force Poseidon.

I was super excited to meet the other people in my class. We definitely had some candid group chats leading up to the trip and I couldn’t wait to put names with faces. More than that, I was grateful for the opportunity to be surrounded by other veterans who spoke the same language and shared common experiences again. My transition from Army to civilian life was rough, both physically and mentally but knowing I would be in the company of like-minded, kindred spirits for the next four days was a big breath of fresh air. No SCUBA pun intended.

Day one at Emerald Coast SCUBA did not disappoint. The group of divers and instructors I met that day was nothing short of remarkable and I will continue to draw inspiration and motivation from each of them for as long as my memory will let me. We were undoubtedly a motley bunch covered in tattoos and scars, but the energy we gave to one another over the course of four days was palpable. Safe to say, we will all meet again sometime soon at the bottom of the sea and will continue to do so for a long time to come.

We fought hard with Mother Nature our first two days in the pool. Fortunately, not even a few stops for lightning kept us from doing what was required of us to graduate to open water. Although diving in a 90-degree pool might not seem like much to some, it was where we forged our confidence in our equipment, one another and our instructors. It was no different than any other bit of Army training, albeit without any yelling.

The amount of courage and fortitude I saw from my classmates over those two days was really remarkable. I watched a classmate hesitant to put her face in the water on day one meet us at the bottom of the deep end with confidence on day two. I watched another classmate in a wheelchair become weightless underwater and swim as gracefully (or ungracefully) as the rest of us. All I could think was how fortunate I was to be in the company of this group. That was really where a part of my soul that was missing for a long time started to come back.

Day three and four rolled around and the SCUBA Gods showed favor on us and gave us two great days of weather for open water diving.  The crew of the famous Aquanaut took great care of us and got us to our dive sites in short order. In spite of the great weather on top, the conditions down below on day one were less than favorable. I guess the SCUBA Gods needed to remind us things aren’t always perfect, but we can still get the job done. Murky water and low visibility stared us right in the face at the bottom of the anchor line on the first dive. Nonetheless, we had purpose, and a mission, and we didn’t let massive schools of baitfish or strong currents keep us from demonstrating our competency underwater.

The last day of diving took us to the wreck of the Miss Louise and the old Destin bridge rubble. Both structures supported a ton of marine life and the visibility and current was much more favorable than the day before. Once we knocked out the last of our skills at the site of the Miss Louise, we got to tour her from all angles and see an old tug in her new underwater life teaming with sea life. She was arguably much more beautiful in her life underwater than when she worked on top.

The dive on the Destin bridge rubble was our opportunity to finally just dive. There were no more skills to demonstrate. This was our dive to just look around and see what the ocean had for us. I kept a good eye on my dive buddy who was just as enthralled as I was. I knew I had been given an incredible gift and I hated to see it come to an end. We stayed on those giant pieces of concrete for as long as we could.

The thing that always struck me about diving was the stillness and the quiet. It’s just you and the sound of your breath. I was so glad to have found that stillness again, exactly when I needed it. I always likened it to the moment the parachute opens when things get quiet except for the sound of the wind. The difference with diving being no hard landings!

I can’t say enough about what Task Force Poseidon and Emerald Coast SCUBA have done for me. I felt like I was part of a team again and I desperately needed that. I needed to be a good teammate, a mentor and to be able to encourage others again. It’s what I’ve been missing since I retired and for a few days, I got it back. My hope from this point forward is that I can share this experience with as many people as I can in this new chapter of my life in the hopes they also find the peace that I find when I’m diving.