OPERATION BATON ROUGE
jULY 2ND - 8TH, 2016
The INAUGURAL retreat for deep sea valkyries was named operation baton rouge and was held in july of 2016. in less than one year, an all volunteer staff worked together to promote, FUND-RAISE, seek out corporate sponsors and donors, and ensure our first voyage would be a success. there were many unknowns - was the counseling material appropriate? was the funding going to be sufficient? would people even apply? after many long sleepless nights filled with prayer and each day driven in our faith that this program would work, we embarked on our maiden voyage.
One week later, we returned to port - PARTICIPANTS and staff renewed and full of life. it is difficult to quantify what all had occurred but we tried...
the group consisted of 18 veterans representing more than 250 years of service and more than 70 years deployed.
just over 32,000 miles flown by veterans traveling to and from their homes.
6 days at sea and nearly 162 nm sailed.
During these 6 days at sea, more than 22 hours of group and individual counseling sessions were held.
18 veterans were afforded 17 dives each; 258 total dives gave us 170.3 combined hours of bottom time.
a combined depth of 12,196 ft (over 2 nm) averaging 47 feet on each dive; divers experience coral reefs, drifts, plane and ship wrecks, shark feedings, blue holes, and night dives.
8 new certifications were issued.
more IMPORTANTLY, new friendships were formed and bonds strengthened. individuals learned new ways to heal and grow and discovered strength and resolve that was untapped. participants learned that they not only survived their trauma - but can thrive post service. veterans from our maiden voyage have gone on to earn college degrees, set their eyes on becoming ENTREPRENEURS, rediscovered and gained new and healthy passions in life, earned and MAINTAINED gainful employment working within and leading their community. Many cite being a better husband, wife, father or mother - rediscovering their purpose. others have returned to serve on staff giving back to fellow VETERANS in this and other alternative therapy programs. enjoy their "captain's log" below - a reflection of each day at sea from the view point of the veterans.
Saturday, 2 July 2016
Veterans from around the country are departing their homes, saying good bye to friends and family to embark on a week long journey in the Bahamas and throughout the Exuma Cays. Many have never set foot on a large sail boat, lived on a boat, or been so far removed from civilization. It is truly an adventure for each and every one of them.
The months leading up to this retreat have been chaotic but exciting. Some have been conducting Scuba training for the first time, many others doing their refresher courses and preparing personal gear. Arrival into Nassau was (luckily) uneventful as flights and baggage arrived more or less on time. Transportation from the airport to the harbor contained mixed emotions with some of the participants remaining reserved while others engaged in lively conversation playing catch up from previous duty assignments.
Boarding and departure was relatively uneventful with a beautiful day ahead of us, warm weather and a cool breeze. Both the participants and the staff were eager to get started and so we opened up with two concepts to carry forward throughout the week:
FAITH – a word often associated with mixed connotations and feelings; “a concept that is too big for anyone to truly understand”. We open asking everyone to have faith, if just for this week. They all have faith whether they realize it or not and we reflect on what they have faith in – themselves, their friends, family, God? We ask that all participants have faith in the retreat and the week ahead of them; to have faith in the other participants; to have faith in the process.
BELIEFS - we all have three basic types of beliefs; outward, inward and core. Outward are those things you say you believe; Inward are those that you think you believe in; Core are the beliefs that are true to you as a person. All too often we allow these three types of beliefs to conflict with one another especially as we relive trauma and emotional events. Our challenge is for participants to recognize and align these beliefs throughout this process….
It is a beautiful day and an exciting moment as we set sail on our Voyage of healing for the Mind, Body, & Soul
Josh G, Ed C., & Jeff H.
Sunday 3 July 2016
"Search me, God, and know my heart: test me and know my anxious thoughts."
~ Psalm 139:23.
The last two days have been filled with travel and getting to know my fellow ship-mates. We all come from different backgrounds but are rooted in common experiences. I think most were a little apprehensive when it comes to opening up with each other but we met less than 24 hours ago.
Meals are always great and the roast beef was particularly nice. The diving has been amazing and we have already seen lobster, hermit crabs, barracuda, puffer fish, and a sea turtle. Some are having a rougher go of it with some sea sickness but most have settled down with the calm seas and sunny skies.
For the first time in a while, I have been able to dive and feel safe and secure in my skills. Relaxation has taken over the day. I have been inspired by watching Veterans with considerable adversity push their own boundaries.
Throughout the day we explored PTSD and what it means to us all. I appreciated the opportunity to disconnect from all the distraction and stresses of life and focus on the core issue, surrounded by beauty and tranquility of the vast open water. In this unique environment, I personally benefitted more than anything I have tried before. We explored a number of techniques and strategies I intend to apply to my life moving forward.
The quality of the staff and participants fostered a supportive environment in which we were all able to lower our defenses and progress physically, mentally, and spiritually. Despite having logged hundreds of dives, I experienced severe anxiety diving which had manifested into physical symptoms which endangered my life and potentially others. I had responded by avoiding the activity I loved completely. Through this once in a lifetime opportunity, I was able to slowly expose myself to those fears in a safe, controlled environment and overcome those personal barriers I had surrounded myself in.
This trip has opened my mind and my soul. I had no idea what to expect from this trip nor did I think I would open up because I am such a quiet person, thanks to the fellow Veterans and staff I was able to open up and take a big step in the right direction. I have experienced feelings and thoughts that I never believed I could. I can’t say thank you enough and I know there is someone I can turn to in my time of need.
As the day closes, I have truly experienced camaraderie and support; experienced life again. I have learned that I could attend and benefit from group counseling that I have resisted so much, how to make my life better mentally and spiritually, and felt one step closer to God.
Going forward, I will use this to live, rather than survive, thank you DSV!
~ Scott E. and Tony B.
Monday 04 July 16
Today’s weather is nice and calm, partly cloudy but beautiful; possibly the best way to celebrate the 4th of July, with brothers and sisters in arms. Meals continue to be amazing from eggs with bacon in the morning, fish, pork chops, and even strawberry cake. There is no shortage of food and no chance one could go hungry.
Today’s group sessions were informative yet powerful as our group has grown closer over the last couple days; it is apparent that retreats can be challenging without one’s significant other there – yet we now rely on one another so much more. We discussed the history and evolution of PTSD. From the discussion with the group, I will now be able to analyze my feelings better and understand what comes from the PTSD and what is simply separation anxiety. Standing at the bow of the boat while eating my meals, I experienced peace. I will be able to use these moments in times where I experience anxiety or anger and reflect on my time on this trip to help sooth those negative feelings.
This retreat is a vivid reminder that it is ok that being a Veteran is part of my identity. It does not have to be my only identity, but it is ok that it is there. There are others throughout the country that share this identity and I can always reach out when needed.
The diving remains unbelievable; 4 dives in total today including our group’s first night dive where we saw so much from barracuda shoals, to parrot fish, and to many rays to count.
This trip has brought me closer to God. While in the service, I drifter farther and farther from Him. On my first night dive, while waiting for the group to enter the water, we were able to witness a lone sea turtle swim directly underneath us. As I watched it, just calmly doing its own thing, one can’t help but to admire all of creation and by doing so, feel closer to God.
For a long time now I have been stuck. I have been to several retreats. None had the impact this one did. I have been wounded, taken lives, watched friends sacrifice so others may live, and watched a soldier kill himself. So many times I have struggled but it has hardened my soul. At times I thought God forgot me. On this trip my wounds were opened; washed and cleaned by the salt water. My body has been cleansed. For the first time I shared my story, the truth. Good, bad, and ugly. I didn’t feel judged. I know healing will take time but finally I can begin to heal. I feel honored and truly blessed to be here. When the seasons change again I will remember this experience and those who support me. Mind, body, and soul, I am different now. I am free to begin again; to live and love again. Thank you for helping me find “me” again.
Tanya B. & Nick G.
Tuesday 5 July 2016
"My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?"
- Psalm 42:2
I am an early riser, having the deck to myself is peaceful and beautiful with a full sky of stars. As Vets wake, it is a great opportunity to connect with quiet conversations as the sun rises over a calm sea and so many islands. By 6 am, the coffee is ready and SO GOOD!
TACO TUESDAY BABY! One would think that in such a small galley meals would be limited but our chef is a miracle worker. Pretty sure losing weight is not an option during this retreat even with all the diving and adventures. The weather continues to be perfect, with temps in the upper 80’s. Water temperature is unreal. Mostly in the mid 80’s and visibility remains at or beyond 100 feet.
Today’s group sessions became a little more intense but in the best way possible. Today I felt liberated and I was able to share with the group the darkest moment in my life. Simultaneously, I experienced COMPASSION from people I only met a few days ago and learned to appreciate life and not prejudice people or things in life. The “Jeff & Ed” show, as we call it, is leagues above any other group or individual sessions I have ever attended and the benefit will carry forward long after this retreat.
After service, somewhere during my grief I lost confidence in myself and my ability to make good decisions. I will implement some of the advice I’ve received from both the chaplain and the counselor during this adventure. They both have called me to discuss traumas I’ve experienced and have helped me to find some of the answers to the questions I have as how to go forward in life.
Today was a 4 dive day where we dove the wreck of the Austin Smith, conducted a drift dive, a shallow reef dive, and a night dive on a plane wreck. We saw a bunch of black-tip sharks, lion fish, large sting rays, and very large groupers. It was the best day of diving I have ever had in my life and I saw more in these 4 dives than I have in 10 years of diving.
Going forward, I will use this to continue living a positive and active life. To bring encouragement to many of the Veterans I know and be proactive in seeking out other Veterans who may need a way to express their feelings outside of the round table discussions. I look forward to staying in contact with my fellow warriors who I have met on the Deep Sea Valkyries adventure! This has been a healing as well as a relaxing adventure. I recommend this experience for any Veteran who is in need of healing!
Richard L., Joe R. & Zimbo
Wednesday 06 July 2016
"For I am about to fall,and my pain is ever with me."
~ Psalm 38:17
Today’s weather called for calm seas and fair weather. While the environment was peaceful, everyone was filled with excitement and some reservation in today’s dives. Today was the shark feed and we were back on the wreck of the Austin Smith. It’s not often that you intentionally go diving on a 100 foot ship wreck where they bring down a “chum-sicle’ to watch the local shark population go into a feeding frenzy. Everyone relaxed quickly once at the bottom and we saw some of the most powerful and awe inspiring behaviors in nature.
We hit a drift dive yet again since everyone had so much fun and went through the washing machine. This week is full of so many ‘firsts’ for so many people. To be in a 3-5 knot current and to get tossed around underwater like a rag-doll is a once in a life time opportunity and an event you couldn’t get the smiles off of people’s faces. The power of the ocean is a humbling yet healing experience in so many ways.
Topside, our group sessions were just as powerful. I learned that I empower myself by facing my fears and that my military days don’t have to be my glory days. I learned how to truly trust and depend on another being. I have felt safe but disconnected from the chaos of society; and yet at the same time I am more connected that ever before. I feel like a member of a tribe rather than lost. There is great value in bringing veterans together “in a container”. Getting a group of Veterans together and separated from the outside world is a place where magic happens. We have quickly banded together and I feel as if I am with family.
I have found joy in each event and every dive. I have looked for and found beauty in each moment. This is something I will take home. Often I find myself with the ‘fear of missing out’ and not fully present to what I am doing in life. DSV helped me to realize how important social interaction is to mental health and has provided an environment that is a safe place to heal and bond with other Veterans.
This is something that can and must be done every year as often as possible… remember, even when your whole world is turned upside down like in the washing machine, it doesn’t mean you aren’t in the middle of an awesome ride.
Kyle M., Kelly S. & Jacob W.