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thedrifter
10-19-06, 10:07 AM
Diving In: Wounded Marines get physical therapy, have fun
THE JACKSONVILLE DAILY NEWS/AP MEMBER EXCHANGE
Thursday, October 19, 2006
JACKSONVILLE

David Peed was in the water before his students, floating around the small lake while the two student divers finished pulling on their wet suits and girding their gear.

"Come on, kiddies," Peed said. "The water's nice."

"Kiddies" at open-water diving, maybe. But not in any other way. Those two men, both Marines, were wounded in combat in Iraq.

But Camp Lejeune's Wounded Warriors barracks follows a philosophy that has nothing to do with coping, or adapting to injuries. It is about overcoming them.

That's why nine of the base's wounded soldiers are besting their injuries by learning to scuba dive, a project made possible by a $3,000 donation from the Rotary Club of Jacksonville-South.

"It's just a new adventure," said Gunnery Sgt. Ken Barnes, the barracks' top enlisted man who had his left wrist wounded by shrapnel while in Iraq. Barnes is also one of the Marines taking the diving class. "It adds one more thing you can do. A lot of the guys here can't play some of the old sports they used to, and swimming is a very low-impact way of staying in shape."

A dive class for wounded Marines and sailors is something that Peed, who owns AA Diving aboard Camp Lejeune, has wanted to do for a couple of years - even before the Wounded Warriors barracks opened. When the barracks, designed as a place for those wounded in war to live and heal together, opened last year, Peed and Barnes talked about the training.

But money was an issue.

So the idea was placed on the back burner until John Burd, a member of the Rotary Club and a diver himself, heard the idea was stalled because of money concerns and pitched the idea of helping out with the class costs.

It was an easy decision.

"In this area, in our club, most everybody is connected some way with the base," Burd said. "It's kind of a personal thing, and you want to reach out, especially to those who gave so much."

The Marines are working to become open-water certified, which means they can dive in any open water from small ponds and lakes to the wide, blue ocean. While much of the instruction involves classroom and pool work, it ends with diving in real lakes.

That's what Barnes and Lance Cpl. Collin Wolf, a 22-year-old wounded Marine from Boston, were doing at a small lake in Maple Hill recently. Peed and another instructor, Lucia Broekhuizen, led the two Marines on their final dive before certification.

Wolf, who was with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines in Iraq when a roadside bomb explosion sent shrapnel into his right leg, said that water activities are a perfect type of exercise. Diving is something he has always wanted to do.

"I can't run yet, so just doing water aerobics or anything in the water, just using my leg helps," Wolf said.

Diving is an excellent activity for people recovering from wounds or facing new challenges because of limbs that don't work as well as they used to, Peed said.

"They are learning to deal with their inconveniences, because that's the way we look at it," Peed said. "It's something to overcome.

"It's aquatic therapy. They are weightless under water. It's sort of a way of sneaking in exercise and therapy while having fun. They are moving and doing things they can't do for a therapist."

Back at the Maple Hill lake, the divers are climbing into their gear. Peed explains that the lake, an old rock quarry that has a number of cars abandoned at the bottom of it, and is populated by numerous fish and eels.

"Just wave them off," Peed said. "They'll come up to nibble. They'll nibble on your fingers, so smack 'em."

In the water, Barnes and Wolf went over their final checklist, while Peed watched closely. Finally, they were ready.

"Let's rock and roll," Barnes said. "Let's do it."

They then were underwater, vanishing into another adventure.

Ellie