Here's How One Veteran Found Therapy Through Diving

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A veteran scuba dives around a memorial.
Shawn Campbell, a former staff sergeant and now a master diver, admires the detail of one of the statues at the Circle of Heroes underwater veterans memorial off the coast of Clearwater, Fla. (Video still/Bill Mills)

Like many Veterans, Shawn Campbell, 38, had a difficult time transitioning back to civilian life after three tours in Iraq as an Army medic. Back home, he found solace in an unusual place -- in the water.

"Diving was an outlet that let me do something that I found a lot of solitude and peace in but also kept me very active and healthy," he told reporters. "It was great for my mind and my body," he continued, describing the experience of diving as meditative.

His diving hobby allowed him to alleviate both physical joint pains and mental wounds. Now, Campbell shares his experience with other Veterans, active duty military, and civilians as a dive master at Narcosis Scuba in Tarpon Springs, Florida.

One location Campbell leads divers to is the Circle of Heroes memorial located approximately 10 miles off the coast of Clearwater, Fla. The Circle of Heroes is an underwater memorial comprised of 12 statues, representing men and women in the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy that divers can visit. Twelve additional statues will be added in 2020 to complete the memorial.

"I had a lot of friends who didn't make it back," Campbell told Army News Service a week after the memorial opened. "And even more who did make it back, but then couldn't win the battle with themselves after the war." After returning home, Campbell decided that if he survived war, he ought to do whatever he wanted -- which became diving. "It helps me deal with things. It's kind of hard to have a bad day when you're underwater and you get to reflect upon yourself."

One of the statues in the Circle of Heroes reads: In honor of SSG Shawn Campbell. Campbell was unaware of the recognition until his dive.

Finding community

Veteran Jace Badia has also become a diving instructor. Badia lost his left leg above the knee from a roadside bomb in Iraq. He enjoys the freedom that diving allows him. "If you don't have the ability to run because of prosthetics, you can get in the water with a tank and you can swim as fast as you want. Nothing is stopping you."

Campbell stressed the importance of finding a community where Veterans can do something healthy and meet like-minded people. There are countless nonprofits and diving centers across the United States with this goal in mind.

Some diving centers allow Veterans to use G.I. Bill benefits to become certified or licensed as a diving instructor or related roles. Others offer training and diving excursions to disabled Veterans. Diving can provide Veterans with a community, a sense of accomplishment, physical relief from injuries and therapeutic benefits.

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