Veterans Dive Into SCUBA At CMU

Seven from Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital enjoy ‘Explore SCUBA Day’

March 13, 2017

By Maggie Gebhardt

“You wouldn’t believe how long I’ve waited to do this,” he said with a smirk, as his eyes gazed at the water. “It was like a dream come true for me – it really was.”

Explore SCUBA DayOn a Saturday afternoon at Central Methodist University, a longtime dream became an exciting reality for Grady McCrary, one of seven U.S. military veterans welcomed to the University’s campus on March 4.

For the first time, CMU’s Marine Biology Program sponsored “Explore SCUBA Day” in hope of showing appreciation, fulfilling a few dreams, and brightening the spirits belonging to service men and women who perhaps deserve it most.

Veterans from Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital in Columbia made the trip to Fayette where they interacted with CMU Marine Biology students, received SCUBA training and instruction, and with masks and oxygen tanks in place, dipped into CMU’s E.E. Rich Pool to explore the water.

“We offer the (Explore SCUBA) program for our own students, and I thought it would be cool if we did it for our veterans,” said CMU Associate Professor of Biology Greg Thurmon of his idea.

Veterans are accustomed to being active, he explained, but many now face difficulties because of disabilities. “That changes in the water due to buoyancy, and SCUBA can give them a chance to experience an ‘adventure sport,’” he said.

Explore SCUBA DayAnd an adventure it was. As the veterans became more and more comfortable with their SCUBA gear, many stayed under the water to simply swim around and take in their surroundings -- sometimes only emerging to give their student instructor a quick smile before going under again.

“I’m like a fish in the water – I can swim, but there’s a lot more to this than that,” said Kevin Hackworth, a veteran who served in the United States Air Force in the late 80s and early 90s. “You can’t just jump in and figure it out. There’s a lot of science behind this.”

Matt Fugitt served in the Army during the first Gulf War, and said he learned a lot about instruction and the importance of trusting your instructor during his SCUBA experience. “It was challenging to get the grasp of it, but once I did, it was a lot of fun. I’d like to do it again, actually.”

Expressing his appreciation, McCrary, who served in the Army in the 70s, couldn’t say enough about his experiences with CMU’s Marine Biology program. “It was a dream come true. An adventure of a lifetime – and life is so rewarding,” he said.

Students with GradyHe spoke about how for many years, he struggled with depression, drugs and alcohol, but he found a saving grace through Truman Memorial. His participation in programs they offered – just like the SCUBA lessons he had just experienced at CMU – exposed life’s enjoyments that to his previous self, went unnoticed.

“It’s good for the depressed mind. A lot of people suffer from mental illness, but if they would get involved in activities such as this, it could really help,” he said. “If you enjoy something, you should pursue it.

“I’d love to do this again. It felt good. Who knows? I might take a class to further this experience. It could be something I could be really good at.”

The idea of the veterans being able to pursue the SCUBA experience further was at the forefront of both CMU’s and Truman Memorial’s minds. CMU wants to make this the first of many similar events, but also hopes veterans take classes beyond this introduction. Obtaining certification could even lead to opportunities to visit the Gulf Coast for a dive, according to Thurmon.

“We are hoping that some of them are interested in SCUBA class,” said Wayne Morse, CMU assistant director of plant operations and safety coordinator. Morse is a retired Army veteran, and also volunteers at Truman Memorial. He and Thurmon worked together to make Explore SCUBA Day possible.

“This day means a lot to me,” he said. “Sometimes you almost get forgotten. You don’t wear that uniform every day and you don’t wear something that identifies you as a veteran, so it’s nice to recognize them for what they’ve done, and help them work through any issues they may be having.”

Explore SCUBA Day was all about the veterans and their experiences, but everyone who helped make it possible agreed it was an enlightening and rewarding event.

“It’s exciting to have the experience of working with veterans,” said CMU junior Carmelo Calandro, a Marine Biology major from Imperial. “I think they’re receiving a whole new perspective about what Marine Biology really means, and having a great time doing it.”

Also helping make the day possible were Erin Carr and Kelly Schilling, both recreational therapists from Truman Memorial. One of the main goals, according to Carr, is to expose veterans to experiences that integrate them into the community – igniting an interest, and encouraging them to independently pursue the activities further.

“This is our first time doing SCUBA, but it has been great -- we’re always interested in community activities that will help veterans,” Carr said. “It’s been an absolutely wonderful opportunity, and we’ve really enjoyed it.”

Explore SCUBA Day