OFF THE COAST OF FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (WSVN) — A group of veterans participated in lobster diving off the coast of Fort Lauderdale as part of Operation Outdoor Freedom.
The program helps wounded veterans dealing with the stresses of combat through therapeutic missions, such as lobster diving on the ocean floor.
“It’s really helped save lives,” said Major Dale Ingham.
Ingham served in the U.S. Army for 16 years and knows firsthand the challenges soldiers face.
“You have all your friends, your buddies, your camaraderie, an elite force, then you come back, and it’s like boom, your bottom drops out,” said Ingham.
Programs like Operation Outdoor Freedom want veterans to have something to fall back on. In this case, it’s the water.
Staff Sgt. Brian Bohne, one of the operation’s managers, suffered a severe upper body injury while serving.
“You see these guys coming home from combat, and I often wonder what they were like before they went to war,” said Bohne.
Sgt. Alex Esteban credits these adventures for keeping him healthy, knowing too many friends who couldn’t cope.
“I don’t think I’d be here if it wasn’t for these programs,” said Esteban.
For far too many veterans, the demons they have to overcome as they reenter society are just too much.
Staff Sgt. Damon Zeigler was on the trip last year and lost his battle just a few months ago. Zeigler had lost his leg in war.
Before passing, he told 7News last year that a day in the water kept him going.
“Every single veteran that was here wasn’t on the couch contemplating anything or wasn’t by himself,” said Zeigler.
Bohne said he had spoken with Zeigler just days before he died.
“He was happy-go-lucky, and next thing I know I heard he committed suicide,” said Bohne.
The lobster dive is now named after Zeigler.
The program’s message to fellow veterans: you’re not alone.
“Some guys get major, major depression, and these programs help get them out of their houses and doing things,” said Bohne.
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