DALLAS - For Wounded Warrior Matthew Staton, the Patriot Scuba shop at the Army & Air Force Exchange Service's Town Center at Fort Belvoir has helped give him a renewed sense of adventure.
In January 2004, Staton was a second lieutenant in the Army stationed in Iraq when he took six rounds to the chest and leg, leaving him with no feeling in his left thigh, significant loss of use of his left leg, post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury.
Ten years later, following his latest hip surgery, Staton was able to begin doing adaptive sports and completed his first dive August of 2014 with Patriot Scuba. Being in the water is a recommended part of Staton's therapy, taking the pressure off his joint and reducing the pain his daily activities cause him.
July 4, 2015 - Wounded Warrior Matthew Staton prepares for a dive with Patriot Scuba Owner Jeff Currer. Currer is the executive director of the nonprofit organization Patriots for Disabled Divers, which helps provide scuba diving lessons to wounded veterans at no cost to them. (Courtesy photo by U.S. Army & Air Force Exchange Service HQ)
“[Diving is] a popular thing in the Warrior community all around,” Staton said. “Because of the way being in water feels, it gives you more of a sense of freedom than being out of water – and that doesn't preclude people with conditions like PTSD.”
Patriot Scuba opened at the Exchange's Belvoir Town Center in February. Jeff Currer and his wife, Merial, operate that location along with another shop in Occoquan, Virginia.
“[Fort Belvoir] seemed like a good fit. Probably 90 percent of our customers are military or have served in the military at one point,” Merial Currer said. “We saw what water therapy could do and we wanted to see if that could help anyone else.”
Despite the true dive season just beginning, in their five months on the installation they have had more than 200 people sign up for their mailing list and the number of students in their Open Water Diver program has more than doubled from 13 to 27.
“It's a growing business, and we are just going into peak season,” said Veronica Reese, Fort Belvoir's Services Business Manager. “Their support of disabled vets and Wounded Warriors ties in with our installation tenants.”
The Currers have widespread military roots, stretching from Jeff's nearly 30-year-long stint as a captain in the Navy to Merial's 20 years of work supporting military spouses. In 2013, they founded Patriots for Disabled Divers (PFDD), a nonprofit organization seeking to train handicapped veterans to scuba dive with no expense to them. That summer, they became the official scuba program provider of the Wounded Warrior Project. Since then, Jeff, who heads up PFDD, has travelled across the nation to train about 400 Wounded Warriors to dive.
“A lot of these military types are adrenaline junkies, but a lot of them can't jump out of airplanes anymore,” Merial Currer said. “So this offers a kinder, gentler kind of rush for them.”
At Fort Belvoir, Patriot Scuba sees service members coming through to get their diving certification, undertake extra courses or to get their families certified so they can dive together. Through PFDD, they serve wounded veterans with disabilities ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to quadriplegia. Staton began diving with a grant he received from PFDD and, since then, his wife and daughter have both taken courses with Patriot Scuba.
“Being in the water gives me back that sense of almost total freedom,” Staton said. “It's been a great experience, and a family experience.”
By Julie Mitchell, U.S. Army & Air Force Exchange Service HQ
Provided through DVIDS
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