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NEWS | Oct. 21, 2021

Recovering Soldiers at Fort Drum Return to the Water

ARLINGTON, Va. — The scuba diving class at the Fort Drum Soldier Recovery Unit, New York was on hold for 18 months due to equipment issues and the COVID-19 pandemic, but Soldiers are back in the water now.

In 2009, two cadre members from the Fort Drum Soldier Recovery Unit, New York, created the class as an adaptive reconditioning opportunity for wounded, ill and injured Soldiers. Juan Carrasco was a squad leader and platoon leader at the SRU when he turned his idea into a class about the underwater activity.

The program has evolved over time. Carrasco became a certified scuba diving instructor and teaches the class now. Debbie Lester, certified occupational therapy assistant, said that participating soldiers receive information about how to assemble equipment and what to do when scuba diving in the pool.

Participants told Lester that their stress and anxiety melts away underwater. They said that they forgot everything else and experienced a feeling of freedom.

“Most people just love it and they’re so excited that they get to do that,” Lester said.

Spc. Joseph Suarez is a Soldier assigned to the Fort Drum SRU. For him, one of the best parts was experiencing a “weightless world,” which he likened to what it would be like in space. He said the feeling was surreal.

“I would equate it to jumping out of a plane or bungee jumping,” Suarez said. “I can mark it off my bucket list, I’ll say.”

Jeffrey Johnson is a rescue diver and former Fort Drum SRU cadre member who helps with the classes. He said that at the SRU, scuba diving is a form of therapy to relax the body and mind.

“It allows participants to overcome their fear through education leading to confidence, which leads to tranquility,” Johnson said.

Scuba diving helps control pain and stress and empowers Soldiers through instilling a sense of confidence, he explained.

“The water creates a weightless environment for those struggling with physical impairments and offers a freedom of mobility that we can't find on land,” he said.

Spc. Jay Morales is a Soldier assigned to the Fort Drum SRU. For him, scuba diving is just as exciting as it is fulfilling. But that’s not all it offers; he said it’s also challenging and rewarding. He shared that he’s not a good swimmer and is proud that he overcame a top fear to participate.

“The feeling I experience while underwater is the absolute freedom from gravity, and the ultimate calmness, where everything moves slowly,” Morales said. “And the sense of deep relaxation took over because I only focus on my breathing.”

When it comes to learning to scuba dive, he said it’s primarily a matter of attitude.

“If you are motivated to step through the door into an exciting new world, then the experience will prove both energizing and confidence-building,” he said.

The Army Warrior Care and Transition Program is now the Army Recovery Care Program. Although the name has changed, the mission remains the same: to provide quality complex case management to the Army's wounded, ill and injured Soldiers.