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