Dagger Dive IV: From the Eyes of the Schroeder’s

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.

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Key West

Key West, a small island at the very tip of the United States. It was the home of Ernest Hemingway, and this year, it was home to DAGGER DIVE IV. This event was our second year to bring Army Special Operations Soldiers and families who are wounded, ill, or injured; and this year it was our first time to bring those who have lost loved ones (Gold Star families) to Key West for SCUBA diving

The families started arriving, and we had a welcome dinner where we were able to meet and start getting to know each other. Everyone has their own story and each one is special and this week we got to know ten more special families and they are now part of our extended family.

We had a very special guest during the week and that was the US Special Operations Command  (US SOCOM) Commander, Admiral William McRaven. The Admiral came down to our event to support our wounded, ill, injured, and Gold Star families. As he gave his opening remarks on Sunday, one could see how deeply touched he was by the families that had gathered: we were all touched by their sacrifice, resilience, and their love for each other and the journey that they are taking. This last week, we were allowed by the families to share part of their journey – for me, that is a privilege that is not to be taken lightly.

Our Foundation sponsors what we call Recreational Therapy Events or RTEs for short. These events are designed to help our families to heal; learn a new skill, which in this case was SCUBA; and to enjoy that new skill together. One might ask how does SCUBA help a family heal? The answer is not simple, but nothing in life is simple. Healing is a process and takes time, but what SCUBA does is give a family an activity that they can do together and it can be as easy or as strenuous as they like. One of the activities that I personally love about SCUBA is watching the fish. I go to a rather shallow depth and just float and watch the fish and wildlife. It is so comforting and peaceful to hear your breathing pattern and to just watch all the fish and coral. One of my favorite places to do that next to Key West is Grand Cayman. When I surface, I feel like ten years of frustration and tension are gone and I sleep like a baby.

For me, this week has also been one of introspection on my part. I oftentimes feel overwhelmed with all that is going on at work, home, and with the Foundation; so coming to Key West and focusing on this event is a God send. I am  also so grateful that we have  a team that is simply the best. Everyone worked together to make this event happen and each year it is just getting better.

This year, we participated in many events that were not SCUBA in nature due to the tropical storm Debby. This was not necessarily a bad thing because the families got a chance to do more in Key West than just dive. We did a Danger Charter cruise and folks got a chance to go kayaking and snorkeling off of a sailboat. We also did a ghost tour and it was loads of fun. One of the most special tours was the tour that the Company Sergeant Major (SGM) took our Gold Star families. The SGM gave us a tour of the Special Forces Underwater Operations School. One of our Gold Star families husband was a graduate and she actually ran into a team mate of her husband’s during the tour. The Gold Star kids got a chance to see many things on that tour that most people will never see.

As I reflect on the events that took place, I marvel at how strong our force is and how supportive our families are of our soldiers. Our country is strong because we have patriots willing to sacrifice all. I just want to personally thank all those that came to the event and to those who donated time, talent, money, but most of all: their love for our families. CKD

One group of divers who had just completed diving the USNS Vandenberg.

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Remembering September 11, 2001

It is incredible to believe that it has been ten years since our lives have changed. I believe on that fateful day that America lost her innocence. America had been fighting terrorism around the world, but not at home. Home was our sanctuary….our refuge. That was changed forever on this fateful day ten years ago.

In 1993, The World Trade Center had been the target of a smaller and less organized attack,  but September 11, 2001 was anything but disorganized. It was planned long in advance, people trained, and they followed their plan. As a result, 2,977 innocent people died.

Our lives changed forever and how we look at the world. The US struck back at the Al Qaida terrorist group with the first official  response on 7 October 2001 with the start of the aerial campaign. US Special Operations Forces led the response and has suffered many of the casualties as a result. I personally know many of the operators who have gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country. SFC Daniel Petithory, SSG Brian Cody Prosser, and MSG Jefferson Davis were the first SF soldiers to pay that ultimate price.

I know that everyday, I think in some way or another about the events that happened on September 11. It may be catching a snippet on the war on the news or when I am visiting with former brothers at 5th SFG or at other SOF bases….or tragically, when we are contacted because someone has a need and are reaching out for assistance. I know that in all our lives, the Task Force Dagger Foundation feels the loss and hurt of each soldier and family we come into contact with. We are glad to be here and that we are able to help with what little we can. I know that I wish we were not needed.

In reflecting on the events of September 11, 2001; we have been at war for ten years and 6,207 Service men and women have defended our freedom with their last measure. Take a moment and go to http://militarytimes.com/valor/. This website lists all the casualties from OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom), OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom), and OND (Operation New Dawn). You can scroll down and learn more about these brave Americans. You can put a face to their name and find out more about them.

To my friends and former team mates, you are my family and I know that I am a better person for knowing you and serving with you. Thank you for your sacrifice and love for our great country.

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The Meaning of Inspiration

Recently, we were in Key West with several soldiers and family members : ten soldiers and fifteen family members to be exact. The purpose of the event was a recreational therapy event with scuba diving as the focus.

What struck me during the event was the attitude of the soldiers and their families: positive, upbeat, and filled with a desire to have fun with their families. The husbands, wives, and children were there for each other.  During the event, one of the concerns we had was the ability to get on and off the boats. The main concern we had was dignity for the soldier and family; however, dignity was not an issue. What we learned was that the drive and determination displayed by the soldiers was incredible. The word “no” and the phrase “I can’t do it.” were simply not there. From the moment when we saw them walking off the airplane to the day they left, they amazed us with their every accomplishment. Webster’s Dictionary defines inspiration as, “the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions.” The drive and determination to have fun as displayed by this motivated group was just that: inspiring.

During the week, we were part of that family and I know that I was personally touched by being there and I suspect that many others were as well. To be a small part of the healing process for these warriors and their families is beyond words. Seeing the looks on the faces of the other volunteers that came was proof that these events are what the families need.

I know it has been a while since we made a posting and I apologize for not posting an update sooner. We will post more as we grow.

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Did you ever wonder what it really means to be courageous? This weekend, we saw the movie The King’s Speech with Colin Firth. I won’t go on about the movie, but suffice it to say that it was very good. The movie was based on the real life of Prince Albert who later became King George VI and was the King of England from 1936 until his death in 1952.

What makes this drama unique is that King George VI had a very severe speech impediment: he stammered and stuttered to the point that he could barely speak. You might be asking,  “how does this compare to the courage of a soldier on the battlefield?” The answer is this: during the dark days of 1939, England was on the brink of war with Germany. The outcome of which no one knew the answer. The King, along with Prime Minister Churchill, were symbols of England and if they faltered, the people would lose faith and confidence. The King had to be seen as a strong and courageous leader to the people. This meant speaking in public – something the King had a mortal fear of doing; however, he had no choice if he was to demonstrate confidence and strength to the British citizenry.

It was also at this time that Sir Laurence Olivier produced an adaptation of Henry V for the British Broadcasting Corporation. Olivier took Shakespeare’s play and used it as a tool to motivate and encourage his country.  For Britain, 1939 – 1945 were years of struggle, not to win, but to survive as a nation: a struggle that her citizens faced with uncommon strength and courage during some of England’s darkest hours. Why is this important? What does this have to do with King George VI, “Courage,” and Laurence Olivier’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry V?

Olivier’s adaptation, produced in 1944, is a reflection of the time. Olivier takes the fears and uncertainties felt by a nation and transforms those fears and uncertainties into positive emotions of pride and determination that raise war-torn morale. He reminds the Britons of the indomitable spirit of England’s countrymen and women; thus, they draw a common strength and courage from each other.

In the movie Henry V, King Henry gives a speech at dawn just before the battle. Henry’s text at the beginning of the soliloquy demonstrates that he is well aware that the burden of the kingdom rests upon him when he states, “Upon the King! Let us our lives, our souls, / Our debts, our careful wives, / Our children, and our sins lay on the King!” (4.1.230-232). This is same weight of responsibility that King George VI felt in 1939.   The setting of the speech in the film adaptation is juxtaposed with sunrise and this was meant to give England hope and courage that maybe, just maybe, they had passed the worst in the night and a new dawn would bring an end to their fear. King George VI must have felt this weight and responsibility every time he faced his greatest fear: public speaking. Our wounded service members face the same fear and uncertainty in their lives that King George VI and England felt in 1939: fear of the unknown and wondering what the future holds.

What I see at Walter Reed each time I go is courage. Not courage on the battlefield, but courage forged in facing a different enemy. Facing oneself, looking into one’s soul, and pressing on toward an unknown future with a determination to heal and get back to living.  I also see a bond between these wounded service members that is just incredible. Their camaraderie  and encouragement for each other is humbling, and just like Olivier in his film adaptation of Henry V, these soldiers encourage each other and push each to not only survive the fight, but to  heal and get better. These men and women don’t know what the future holds for them, but knowing that to get there, they will pass through a lot of pain and healing before reaching their goal. Seeing these wounded service men and women facing their pain and injuries day after day is amazing. Many of them have surgical procedures two and three times a week with just enough time in between to rest before facing the next hurdle. They come through with an attitude that humbles me and leaves me in awe.

As I watched these men and women, I marveled at their strength and courage. I truly wish the American people could see what these heroes go through in their journey to heal. It would change the definition of “hero.”

Note – For many of the more seriously wounded service members, they face twenty – thirty surgeries over their healing process.

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The Cost of Freedom

6:58 AM 14 January 2011

Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital is located in Washington D.C. This is where many of our wounded service people go when they get to the States after being injured or wounded. Yesterday, I visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) for the second time. The first time was at the suggestion of a friend of mine. COL W. suggested that I visit WRAMC whenever I am in D.C. I will be honest with you and tell you that I am not a fan of visiting hospitals. I don’t know many people who are, but I decided that I needed to go. At Walter Reed, I visited with about eight soldiers from the US Army Special Operations Command that were up on Ward 57. Ward 57 is the orthopedic ward where many of the soldiers go after being medically evacuated out of the war zone. I visited with the soldiers, parents, and wives. All of the soldiers I spoke with were anxious to recover and return to duty.

For me, this visit was the beginning a long journey into personal reflection. My visit spurred me to do something more, but what? We had already started a not-for-profit foundation and were very active, so what could I do that could make a difference? Someone suggested that I write a blog about the foundation and our activities, but I thought to myself, “Who would read a blog that I wrote?” That is the question I kept asking myself every time I turned on the computer and came to the WordPress.com website. I know a few people who write blogs and they are very personal in nature. My daughter writes a blog and she writes beautifully and from the heart. I also have another friend who writes a blog about her husband’s recovery. I can see her blog as being extremely important in letting friends and family know his condition on a daily basis; however, that begs the question: “Why should I write a blog?” The answer is this: I want to relate the experiences that we have as a Foundation and the people we meet. If this blogs spurs one person to action, I will feel that we have accomplished something.

“The Cost of Freedom”

Yesterday, I visited one of my friends who was now recovering from wounds incurred just before Christmas. We had served on the same Special Forces “A” Team. After I had received the inital phone call, things were kind of blurry. Initially, we weren’t even sure how bad he had been hit. Immediately, many of us were searching for information from various sources: the command, friends, and relatives. It didn’t matter where the information came from, we just wanted to know how he was doing. It didn’t take long, but we started getting a regular flow of information and the biggest question that all of us worried about was, “did he and his family need anything?”

As the days became weeks, several of us made plans to go visit our friend; however, we couldn’t get things coordinated for a group visit, so we started going as we are able. My turn came on 12 January. I caught a flight out to D.C that day and made my way to Walter Reed on the 13th. As I arrived at the hospital, I knew where I was going from the previous visit – only this time I was a lot more anxious as I knew whom I was visiting. I got to his room and there he was: bruised, wounded, in pain, but his eyes lit up when he saw me. His wife said that every time he gets a visitor that he knows, it really makes him happy. We visited about old times, talked about family, and just passed the time talking about whatever he wanted to talk about. It wasn’t long after I had arrived that two more people came to visit: his Battalion Commander and the Battalion Senior Warrant Officer.

As we were talking another wounded SF soldier came in. He was escorted by his wife. J had been serving with his Special Forces Team when he stepped on an Improvised Explosive Device. He lost both legs and his hand. As J entered the room, it was apparent that J came to give encouragement to my friend. We all talked for a little bit and the conversation was led by J and my friend. After J left, Major General Campbell came in. Major General Campbell is the Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division. He was on leave from Afghanistan and came to visit his soldiers in the hospital. Since my friend was from the same post, the 101st had also adopted him to make sure he was getting all that he needed.

The 13th of January was a little different day for my friend and that was good. Another surprise that he got was a luncheon. The luncheon was hosted by the US Army Special Operations Command’s Deputy Commander and Command Sergeant Major.  They were there to look in on our soldiers and their families. We all attended the luncheon and listened to the questions and responses led by the Brigadier General and the Command Sergeant Major. Now most people might think that there would be complaining about the food, or the hospital service, but not here. No, that was not the case. Each person in attendance was positive: looking forward and not backward.

My friend had to leave the luncheon for his orthopedic rehabilitation training that was at the MATC. We wondered what MATC meant and we were soon to find out. You may be asking how this relates to the blog’s title, “The Cost of Freedom”. Here is why. As we walked into the MATC, which by the way is an acronym that stands for Military Advanced Training Center, we saw many soldiers who bore the scars of their wounds. These soldiers were learning how to walk, how to function with their capabilities. I choose NOT to say disabilities as these soldiers are determined to recover and get back to living.

As we watched our friend struggle through the regimen, we also watched others going through similar therapy. We saw many young people who at any other time might have been at the mall or at a university learning how to be a teacher, lawyer, or some other noble profession. Instead they had chosen to respond to the call of service. They chose to serve their country in a time a war. One young person that really hit home to me was a young female in her early twenties. She had lost her leg. Instead of attending college, she was learning how to use a new leg. She reminded me so much of my daughter; however, my daughter will never know the sacrifice of this young lady or how her life was changed in the blink of an eye.

The cost of freedom is visible in the MATC in a way you will never see on the street. Their new mission is not to defend our country, but to get well and live a good life. As you listen to their conversations, one strong cord resonates: don’t feel sorry for me. Don’t say, “at least you’re alive.” Yes, they are thankful to be alive, but they do not want to be pitied nor felt sorry for. They don’t want to be told what they can’t do, but discover what they can do and how to do what they love, but in a new way.

I am humbled by their bravery, their love of our country, and how much they have sacrificed. All of our service men and women put their lives on the line in distant lands so that we may have safety and security here at home – so that we may enjoy the fruits of freedom.

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