OPERATION NOBLE EAGLE
August 19th - 25th, 2017
DEEP SEA VALKYRIES SECOND RETREAT WAS NAMED OPERATION NOBLE EAGLE and was held in AUGUST of 2017. DUE TO TIMING, WE HAVE LESS THAN A YEAR ONCE AGAIN TO PREPARE AND FUND FOR THIS NEXT ADVENTURE. DUE TO SCHEDULING CONFLICTS AND DEPLOYMENTS FOR SOME STAFF MEMBERS, WE REACHED OUT TO PREVIOUS PARTICIPANTS AND SUPPORTERS TO HELP AUGMENT THE DIVE STAFF. SESSIONS WERE REVISED BASED ON FEEDBACK FROM OUR 2016 PARTICIPANTS AND OUR CONFIDENCE GREW LEADING INTO THE 2017 RETREAT.
UPON OUR RETURN WE COMPILED DATA AS PREVIOUS TO GIVE THE PARTICIPANTS AN IDEA OF WHAT ALL OCCURRED DURING THEIR WEEK AT SEA. IT IS AMAZING HOW FAST THE TIME PASSES WHEN YOU ARE IN ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACES ON EARTH; THIS WEEK -
the group consisted of 18 veterans PLUS TWO ADDITIONAL STAFF MEMBERS AND representing more than 230 years of service and more than 85 years deployed.
just over 38,000 miles flown by veterans traveling to and from their homes.
6 days at sea and nearly 200 nm sailed.
During these 6 days at sea, more than 24 hours of group and individual counseling sessions were held.
THE GROUP WAS afforded 17 dives each; 248 total dives gave us 197.3 combined hours of bottom time.
a combined depth of 9,218 ft (1.5 nm); divers experience coral reefs, drifts, plane and ship wrecks, shark feedings, blue holes, and night dives.
6 new certifications were issued.
ABOVE ALL ELSE, FRIENDS WERE REUNITED, NEW FRIENDSHIPS GAINED, BROTHERS AND SISTERS EXPERIENCING CAMARADERIE ONCE AGAIN - A NEW TRIBE WAS BORN. CHALLENGES NOT EXPECTED AROSE - LEARNING OF FRIENDS COMMITTING SUICIDE WHILE AT SEA DREW UPON THE STRENGTHS OF THE STAFF AND THE RESILIENCY OF EACH VETERAN THAT SHOWED SUPPORT DURING TIMES OF NEED. THIS WEEK HAS SHOWN HOW POWERFUL THIS PROGRAM IS AND HOW NECESSARY IT IS TO HELP FIND PEACE AND HEALING POST SERVICE.
SATURDAY, 19 AUGUST 17
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, excited to find friends long-unseen.
Boarding and departure was relatively uneventful with a lively day ahead of us, a cool breeze but rain on the horizon. 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 new day and an exciting moment as we set sail on our Voyage of healing for the Mind, Body, & Soul
Josh G, Jeff H, & Neysa G.
SUNDAY 20 AUGUST 17
The last two days have been filled with travel and participants getting to know each other. We normally start our first sessions on Saturday night but our trip from port was longer than we anticipated. While the rain was short lived the seas got a bit rough for some of our Valkyries and we thought it best to give them an opportunity to rest from their previous days travels and be ready to start fresh today.
This morning’s devotional starts with discussing the biblical hero David and how at a young age he volunteered to enter battle against a hardened enemy. The parallels between his story and that of our Valkyries is amazing as many of the men and women present also volunteered at such a young age to fight a common enemy. But David’s story does not end there. Like the Heroes on this boat, he will return home to face demons and challenges few others understand. He will come to question his faith, lose his tribe, doubt his future, and experience so much of what Veterans today live through. Thus the perfect story to draw strength upon. We will learn that these struggles are not signs of weakness, but opportunities to find strength.
We all come from different backgrounds but are rooted in common experiences. I think most are a little apprehensive when it comes to opening up with each other but we all met a mere 24 hours ago. For some, they experienced their first open water dive and saw a beauty that can only be understood by those who witness it firsthand. Others were able to return to the water and find the peace they needed so desperately. Many fears were also overcome as participants earning their open water certification entered a world that while amazing, is also so foreign. Our divers saw so much in their first day from lobsters to turtles, parrot fish, puffer fish, crabs, different coral formations, and learned to trust their equipment and their dive buddy.
The question arose with one participant on why, if there is a God and he is good, he allows challenges, suffering, and struggles to be placed in our lives. We allowed the week to play out to help answer that question. While we don’t dare to say we have all the answers, we truly believe that the ‘Goliaths’ in our lives are meant to bring out the ‘David’ within each of us. Our participants will hopefully come to understand that soon.
Going forward, we hope our participant use this to thrive, rather than simply survive!
Josh G and Neysa G
MONDAY 21 AUGUST 17
Today I woke around 0430, slept pretty good despite the fact that last night I had a dream I haven’t had in awhile, but I will make the best of this new day without my past experiences dictating what comes next for me. Came up to the deck since I wanted to see a sunrise. While I waited I did some reflection on things and events that HAve been really bothering me. Started doing some of my katas or karate forms along with some breathing to help me channel my anger I was experiencing at the moment. Being surrounded by natures wonders. It wasn’t hard to let go and feeling some good vibes to start my day on a good note.
It was a partially overcast day with showers sprinkled throughout. The meals continue to impress ranging from French toast to spaghetti and all that goes with, to fried chicken. Excitement mounted as we planned to dive during the eclipse. If you looked through Jim’s glasses you could see the moon starting to overlap the sun. We were like kids taking turns with a new toy. It was an amazing glance at something far beyond us and yet so insignificant in a way and it reminded me of a greater purpose. I will seek out the at risk veterans and try to show them the love they need, and to get them the help they want - because if they don’t want to get better there’s nothing you can do to change them.
I am grateful for the silence we have under water it is clearly a place of peace for me to think and plot a new course. This trip was supposed to be. In the last 2 weeks I lost 3 friends to suicide and August is a tough month already with anniversary of losing 18 friends and team members in combat, losing 3 more left me numb. I was questioning everything...but then God sent a message, BREATH! And know that I am with you. I found my God and strength to go forward at the bottom of the sea...with my family.
The evening came to an end on deck where it had begun, what seemed like only moments ago. Laughter and stories were shared until the voices died off one by one like the stars disappearing behind the clouds.
Omar R., Frank D., & Drew T.
TUESDAY 22 AUGUST 17
ON TUESDAYS - WE EAT TACOS! What a day, we thought the crew couldn’t top our first stop at iguana island but we were wrong, next came the SHARK FEED!!! Witnessing the raw power of sharks feeding 15ft above your head is a humbling experience. They are also curious, swimming around us just to see what we are about. And if that was not the most awesome experience of my life…..then came the “washing machine”. This was my first drift dive and the underwater landscape causes a phenomenon that tumbles you as if you were in a washing machine, and then you drift along with the current watching the beauty of the underwater world pass you by.
This morning I felt as if my anxiety abated and was accepted by my shipmates; I felt connected by doing something with others. Common activities provide a bridge to connect with others. The counseling taught me I do not need to upload and share everything but test waters in shallow conversation before going into deeper conversation with others. The analogy of testing waters and going slow helped my understanding on trust.
Today I felt like it wasn’t just me with the strange quirks. Between the readings and discussions, I’ve realized how wide the range of symptoms are and the different ways we deal with them. I reflected and realized I am a loner because I refuse to trust when I should at least give people a chance. Going forward I will stand back and see how people may look at me. Don’t assume. Give people a chance.
We are very small when it comes to being in this vast body of water being as miniscule as a needle in a haystack. It is hard of many to forget, move forward from physical, mental, and invisible injuries of war and life. Whenever I am surrounded by fellow warriors, hearing their stories and struggles, it only strengthens my faith. I’m grateful, thankful for all of those that have and will continue to pray a covering of protection over mine and my families lives. I’m thankful for each day I awake and I will reach out to fellow warriors that I have made a personal connection with on this trip to help them on their recovery journey. Nothing hurts more than knowing a fellow warrior has succumbed to a personal choice to checkout of the world of the living, leaving more hurt, sorrow, and pain to those left behind. I will use this amazing experience to help me get over the hard times that will come in the future reflecting back on the moments all of the warriors on this excursion. All who enter into these healing waters watch as their pains and worries wash away while descending in the vast underwater world.
May peace and blessings continue to cover Team Valkyries as my prayers will forever be over you and Warriors Past, Present, and Future. AMEN!
Adam M., Jimmie B., Jason P., & Jose G.
WEDNESDAY 23 AUGUST 17
Today as we discussed happiness coming from within, I felt empowered! I know that asking for help requires strength not weakness. By maintaining positivity in the moment as thoughts of suicide, etc. are present I can influence happiness and peace within and this will flow to others around me. I will enjoy every moment for what it is worth.
I am going to work to be less closed off from society. Since my return from service, I have been good at giving the expected answer in lieu of a genuine answer. I have struggled to keep my professional and personal life separate and not share either with anyone not in my closest circle. I have had little faith and no want for organized religion. This trip has helped me to see the flaws in the tightly constructed walls. Going forward, I am going to try to be more personable with those I have less common ground with. I know it will be a great struggle, but this trip has helped me to see the importance of these relationships. Additionally, I am going to take “the leap of faith” (no pun intended) to try church again. I want to thank the program for helping me get to the root of my inner demons and helping me to find a path to self-healing.
I will use this to look at my life as having endless possibilities. I’m alive therefore God has given me a chance to do better and become better each day. His Grace is definitely there for me. I just have to be open to receive it. The boat and crew were absolutely awesome!!! Couldn’t have asked for a better crew. My instructors Amanda and Josh definitely knew their shit and truly made this experience a memorable one!! I now know that I am capable of more than I may think. Just breathe slowly in and out and amazing things can happen and I can accomplish them. Amanda and Josh’s hand of reassurance was what I needed!! Thank you Deep Sea Valkyries for your commitment to Veterans!!
Later in the afternoon as we were enjoying the cooler, overcast weather, I found out a close Veteran friend had lost their battle with PTSD and committed suicide. Deep Sea Valkyries and my shipmates were amazing in supporting me. I couldn’t have been in a better place and time. It really meant a lot to me, the support from Josh and Neysa and everyone. I truly mean it from the bottom of my heart. We need you to keep up the work you are doing for Veterans.
Josh S., Lucas B., Jimmy C., & Sharika B.
THURSDAY 24 AUGUST 17
Today as I awoke, I felt refreshed but sad at the thought of our last full day at sea. I truly experienced the awe of God’s creation. I wasn’t sure what I would get from this retreat, but I ended up with a “boatload” of applicable things! It was the content of how they were explained that made sense. Being isolated at sea in close quarters made getting to know other Veterans easy and quick. We bonded rather quickly and spoke the same language. We used David and the voyage as metaphors for our struggles. I honestly grew personally from this trip beyond all expectations! I saw growth in others as well. I will always remember this voyage, the lessons, and the people. I am humbled and thankful for this opportunity to have been chosen.
I am eternally grateful for this time away. This experience has taught me that I still have drive. I’m still outgoing. I CAN trust others to do the right thing. This trip has helped restore my faith in humanity and my fellow soldiers. No matter what branch of service, we have a love for one another that cannot be broken. I will always remember each person on this boat! Each unique personality has left an indelible mark on my life. Never in a million years could I have imagined scuba diving, let alone diving at night but I did both and this is a huge milestone. Thank you for getting me out of my comfort zone and for tapping into my adventurous side again. I thought I had lost it!
This retreat will always be a memory I cherish. This is a new experience of being on a liveaboard, being in a confined space, in a tranquil place and reflecting with tools on resilience has been a great trip furthering my continued efforts to better myself. It has been hard to wrestle with reconciling what I have had to do, experience, and witness in combat. In reflection, this trip reminds me of what WWII Veterans did on their steam home from war. Those floats home allowed them to process the war with their tribe of peers/warfighters. It didn’t mean that they were cured but that healing had begun.
Matt S., LaWanna V., Jim C., & Anthony S.
FRIDAY 25 AUGUST 17
Our final hours together are filled with laughter, jokes, and tears of joy for the friendship and fellowship we have enjoyed amongst one another. It is a time where we can reflect on all the growth we have experienced not only as a group, but as individuals.
The past week is filled with an impressive list of accomplishments and each Veteran is again part of something so much larger than themselves. A key philosophy of Deep Sea Valkyries is that we recognize that every Veteran writes an important chapter in our Nation’s history. For many, when their service comes to an end, they often feel that their story is finished. We remind them that it is merely the completion of one chapter and the start of the next. Lastly, we are reminded that there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace
We pray that all will move beyond that time of war, and find their time for peace. Thank you to all our participants for having faith in not only Deep Sea Valkyries, but in one another. Carry that faith forward and be your brother’s keeper.
Josh G., Jeff H., Neysa G., Amanda K., Chris B., Roger L., & Ed C.