LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – For many veterans, conflict doesn’t stop when they leave the battlefield. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder serves as a constant reminder of their time in combat every day.
A couple of veterans were able to dive out of the depths of their struggles through scuba and now sharing it with their fellow brothers and sisters.
Strapped in, tanks full, a scuba class hits the pool as Chris Williams takes them through the basics. As they’re learning to breathe underwater, it’s also helping them battle the one thing that brings this group together.
“Fight PTSD,” Williams said.
To understand how these guys got here, we have to rewind and dive into their time in uniform.
“When we deploy, we’re told to do something a human shouldn’t have to do but it’s our job,” Army Veteran Mike Holley said.
Williams and Holley have more than three decades of combined experience in the military. Williams was in the Navy and Holley was in the Army. They both served tours overseas.
“I lost four people out of my company right there in front of me,” Holley said.
They didn’t just lose teammates, but the people who became family.
“June 28th of ’05 and that’s a very triggering day,” Williams said.
That’s the day his former roommate and best friend Danny Dietz was involved in a four-man mission in Afghanistan, commonly known as Lone Survivor.
“Four guys were kind of ambushed and only one of those guys made it out, but Danny was not him,” Williams said.
Moments like that are burned into memory forever.
“Those things just kind of cloud your day because you can’t stop thinking about them,” Williams said.
They looked for ways to keep their heads above water.
“I met Scott. He gave me too much credit and just threw a dive kit at me and said, ‘hop in the pool man and see what it’s like,’” Williams said.
Little did they know, they would find some peace below the surface.
“Silencing that noise around me, I mean you don’t hear anything except the bubbles,” Williams said.
It was the first time his head felt clear.
“We have to share this with others because it could really help,” Williams said.
That’s exactly what they did. Williams and Holley teamed up with Dive Shop Owner Scott McCrory.
“I’m the one thread that did not come from the military,” McCrory said.
Together they created a diving program for their brothers and sisters who understand the sacrifice of serving their country.
“Watching their progression is the reason I show up every day,” McCrory said.
One of the first students was Army veteran Trey Dodson.
“Just got to a point where I was very unhappy with life, with who I am,” Dodson said.
This class came at the perfect time.
“So, all the stuff that is normally running through your mind a thousand miles per hour just slows down,” Dodson said.
Each student faces different struggles during the course.
“Each individual might have different walls they experience during that training,” McCrory said.
From the breathing to the pressure of the water, scuba diving is a proven method to tear those walls down.
“Really does re-establish the neurotransmitters that are needed to get through recovery,” Williams said.
More than that, it’s giving these men and women that sense of belonging they had while in uniform.
“It gave me that again,” Williams said.
Graduating to the open water, the students get to end their class by taking a dive to a memorial for one of their own, Seal Team Six member Adam Brown who was killed in action in 2010.
With the final plunge together, they feel their fears, panics and anxieties just wash away.
“It is not the only answer. It’s just a way that we can help people figure out that there is hope,” Williams said.
While it will be a constant battle, it’s their way to fight for their brothers and sisters still living.
“And honor the ones that are gone,” Holley said.