July 1, 2012 – Sunday; 7:00 pm
WOW! What a week! And all thanks to TASK FORCE DAGGER FOUNDATION!!
We started our week with a 2 hour drive up to Paris, TN to catch the flight to Key West. TFD had arranged for us to fly with the Veteran’s Airlift Command. This is a group of organized pilots that own their own planes/jets that offer to fly the wounded warriors and families to trips such as this recreational therapy trip and hospital visits. John G. drove us out to the airport and we made great time. I had expected I might be able to get some sleep, but that never did materialize and neither did any Z’s on the plane! I guess I was too excited about the trip. LOL! We pulled up to the airport and just ducked in right after the plane had landed. We needed to hang for a few minutes while the plane cooled and we were shortly back up in the air. This pilot and his wife were flying through on their way from PA and a family event. They stopped to pick us on the way through back to FL. WOW! What a plane…or rather I should say mini jet! (this is definitely the way to travel!). We flew right into Tropical Storm Debby. Issac, the co‐pilot, told us that flights in and out of Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and several others had been canceled due to the storm. We were expecting to get diverted somewhere along the way and deal with a lot of bumps and a long drive in to Key West. I don’t know how they pulled it off, but neither happened. We experienced more bumps coming through TN and AL than we did pulling up to the Keys. It must have been through the skill of the pilots that positioned us on the back side of the storm. They came across the southeast and along the eastern coast of FL and back across. Whatever they did, I was certainly appreciative of the efforts!
We got in not long after noon and made our rounds of meeting and greeting with those that we crossed paths in the hospitality room. It took longer than it should have to get our room cleaned and readied for us. We finally got keys around 5:00 PM. That was enough time to get us settled in the room, showered, and back out for the opening ceremony (and still no sleep…). There was an excitement buzzing around the room with the “mystery” visitor that was expected to join us at the opening dinner. When we got to the rooftop conference room, we understood what the buzz was about. Admiral McRraven was in attendance with his entourage of security detail and assistants. He hadn’t heard of Task Force Dagger Foundation until Scott educated him via a trip through Walter Reed on what it was and how their mission works to help wounded SOCOM guys, their families, and the families of the fallen. Once he heard about it, he started working towards co‐inciding his schedule with the trip dates and made it work.
He hung around for the next two days and dove with a portion of the group. Half of us did the same thing that Zach and I did last year, working towards certification. The other half attempted some open water dives on Monday and Tuesday. Since the seas were too rough to dive in, they had organized for us to dive the lagoon. I got in on Monday to get a fresher before going out in the ocean. Scott didn’t join me on Monday since he wasn’t feeling so hot so he did his refresher on Tuesday. The Admiral was out Monday with the group of us and focused his attention on Jack. Jack is an AF Combat Controller (CCT’er) who had suffered a severe injury to his spinal cord from a jump. He landed wrong collapsing his C‐3 over his C‐4 and is now paralyzed from the shoulders down. Somehow, Keith had found him towards the end of last year and had told him about the trip. Jack was a former combat diver and was really excited about the trip. His wife… well not so much. She didn’t dive and was a bit leery about trying. TFD worked to get his wife and his caregiver certified prior to the trip so that they could all dive together this week. The first day in, the Admiral (and former Navy Seal) decided to work detail around Jack and they all dove for nearly an hour around the lagoon. This was the first time that Jack has dived since his injury. It sounds like he was thrilled with the freedom that he found being back in the water. What an awesome organization to be able to bring that back for Jack even if it is for only one week! What it has also done, is opened doors to the possibilities for the future! Scott got back in the water on Tuesday and felt good to get rigged back up again. Though the lagoon was a bit disappointing with the murkiness and lack of visibility, it was good to “get back in the saddle again”. LOL!
Wednesday was a planned “dive free” day and they had arranged for one of the local chartered sailboats to take us out for snorkeling and kayaking! We had an awesome time!!!!!!
While we were snorkeling, we got to see one of the sea birds diving for fish. In fact, when I caught a glimpse of him going in on my right, I thought it was one of the kids jumping off the boat until I realized that I was a good 100’ away from the boat. Then I realize it was the egret fishing right alongside of me. It was sooooo cool! After we had enough of that, we headed on to a mangrove key and kayaked around the “island”. Scott and I partnered up and synced well with each other’s strokes. I think he surprised himself at how well he had done. In fact, he did so well that I had to double my strokes to keep us from veering to the right. LOL! Thursday ended up being another “free” day since none of the dive boats were going out. The visibility was still too low for diving. In fact, the reports were that it was only in the range of 5’‐0” or so… not good. I think for the most part, many of the folks got caught up on sleep and current events via the TV. I took advantage of the quiet time and put some thought into my thesis and how to possibly approach it once I got back. Friday…well Friday was perfect! We finally got a real dive in. A third of our group went out with Southpointe Divers and headed out to Sand Keys while the others split to two other boats and different locations. We were told that the visibility was going to be a bit disappointing, but we all went anyways. I’m so glad we did! Last year, I was a bit leery about the diving thing. Maybe because it was so intensive with all the training and certification and the scare tactics that you have laid on you pertaining to all the risks and dangers associated with diving. This year, the pace was slower and I found a real appreciation and love for this new world underwater. Though the visibility was low, it was beautiful and we saw so much under there! …a 3’‐4’ stingray, LOTS of blue fish, yellow fish, barracudas, sharks, lobster, and the list could go on. It really is peaceful under there once you (I) finally let the fear go. I’m so ready to go again!
We had an extra special treat Friday night. Our friends, John and Tawanda, were in Miami for one of John’s classes. When we heard he was near, we connected and they made the drive down. It was so good to catch up with them and see how life has been since they moved to Bragg. This time next year will bring them back to TN and hopefully more good times! Saturday was another free day since no one is allowed to dive 24 hours before a flight. I found some fellow kayakers and paddle boarders amongst our group and we made it out to one of the Navy’s annexes. Three of us grabbed paddle boards and one a kayak and we made our way over the grass flats and out into the channel. It was so cool to see all the infant marine life that uses the mangroves and grass flats as their nursery while they grow and become strong enough to venture into the ocean. It all is such a delicate balance and we need to respect it and treat it all with care. We can all co‐exist together! Ah… it is beautiful! (I see a kayak and/or a paddle board in my future! hehe!) Last night’s closing ceremony brought tears to many eyes, especially when Pat (one of the dive instructors) embraced the sons of two of the fallen as he passed their newly acquired certification cards to them. Pat said he saw his own son in the eyes of those two young men as he congratulated them and it was hard not to feel his strong connection and protectiveness over them. It is sad to say fare well to our new friends and old friends. I really hope that those that are new to TFD were able to be carefree and have fun while allowing the soul to mend. Keith’s already planning for next year’s event and has asked us to become part of his staff. (He’s actually asked me to come and be an advocate for health, wellness, and good nutrition!!) Holy cow! They might be sorry that they asked once I get up on my soap box! LOLOLOLOLOL!!! I hope that we can find a way to help and make this come true for ten new families next year. You can also help by donating to this wonderful organization and their tireless mission. http://www.taskforcedagger.org.