Rep. Brian Mast :

On September 19, 2010, I was moving through the Kandahar Valley in Afghanistan with a small team of Army Rangers.  Like every other mission, we worked at night and our goal was to kill or capture high value targets as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.  I did not know it when we set out that night, but that would be my last mission in the Army. 

As we moved across Taliban-controlled territory approaching our target, I was confident that there were improvised explosive devices (IED) around us.  I was right.  With one wrong step, I was sent flying through the air.  I can still taste the dirt in my mouth and hear the shouts of “EOD is hit, EOD is down!” through my earpiece.  The pain of my team wrenching tourniquets down on what remained of my legs and my left arm is the most pain I’ve ever experienced.  The last thing that I remember is seeing my men from the window of the helicopter rendering me one final salute. 

Each year on my Alive Day, I reflect on the lessons that I’ve learned in the eleven years since that bomb went off.

First, there are only two real disabilities in this life: a lack of courage and a lack of determination.  If you have the courage to be bold, to be daring and to try something new, and you pair it with the determination, drive and fortitude to do everything that you can to accomplish your goal, nothing can get in your way.  Even if you lose two legs and a finger, you can wake up and make today better than yesterday. 

Second, you cannot let your best be behind you.  Waking up in Walter Reed next to men and women who had injuries like mine, or worse, I saw that strength firsthand.  Those men and women accomplished the greatest things in life after their injuries, not before.  Inspired by their example, I decided that my best service to this country was not going to be behind me.

Finally, if you spend your life serving something bigger than yourself, you will leave this world with no regrets.  To this day, that is what motivates me, and that is why I will always fight for the United States of America.

Rep. Brian Mast, U.S.Representative 

DIVE 20 


DIVE 20 

Over the next couple of weeks, several of our incredible divers will be sharing with you some of their experiences and how diving has helped them.
With this fundraising campaign, called “Dive 20”, we set a goal to reach $5,000 in order to purchase new regulators and other dive-related equipment. If you are interested in supporting our cause, please donate via the link below.
#Dive20 is an idea, a vision brought to us by one of our volunteers. Legend has it that it takes approximately twenty dives in order to find your own neutral buoyancy. We decided to parallel this with the famous ten-code expression of “what’s your twenty”. Also known as, “what’s your location”. How we interpret this is as checking in with someone. Checking in on their mental, physical, social, and emotional well-being.
With all that has occurred over the past 18 months. We have taken this as an opportunity to check in with some of our previous participants and see where they’re at. It also gives us the opportunity to share their stories with others. Where they have been, what they have gone through, and where they are now.
It’s a rule of thumb, they say. Forty-five minutes, we are told, is what a tank of air will last. And let the truth be told, the world is over seventy percent covered in sea. Thousands of creatures, millions of gallons, but only liters of air to breathe. So much space, so little time, and only so many breaths.
One wonders, what’s your Dive Twenty?
With this fundraising campaign, called “Dive 20”, we set a goal to reach $5,000 in order to purchase new regulators and other dive-related equipment. If you are interested in supporting our cause, please donate via https://www.paypal.com/donate/?cmd=_s-xclick…
Harry Lee Young
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“When I first got introduced to diving, I was very nervous. However, after meeting Stew Snyder, things seemed to have fallen in line. Stew and his wife Patricia welcomed me into this fantastic group of divers with open arms. After this meetup is where I began my journey in SCUBA diving. Stew informed me that there was nothing to worry about after telling him that I couldn’t swim. He assured me that he had my back and front.
He took me by the hand and guided me through the steps it would take to get my PADI Open Water Certification, which increased my curiosity about what it would feel like to dive outside of the pool. It was all about courage, trust, and belief, and Stew builds upon these tenants every day. Once I went to Dutch Springs, PA, to complete my certification, it was love at first dive.
I couldn’t believe that after all this training that I would find myself diving in Open Water which was the final step to obtaining my card, and Stew made sure that I did it by myself with a close eye not too far behind. I can always depend on him, and when he wasn’t around, he made sure that I had someone that understood my situation with water.
Stew assisted me in manipulating my body to conform with swimming due to a previous injury that I had encountered while serving in Iraq. The equipment was heavy so, he assisted me in putting it on while in the water. He then allowed me to go from a half-filled tank to a full tank to build my tolerance and endurance to stay in the water for more extended periods.
I never publicly told this story, but here it goes. While assigned to the 10th Mountain Division, 314th Infantry Battalion, we were scheduled to conduct training in Puerto Rico. It was there that we had a water exercise that involved snorkeling. I was doing fine until the waves shifted, and I found myself off course. Sticking to the training, I remained calm until I couldn’t anymore and found myself sinking.
It was then that two brave and true friends Jacob Valentine and David Nacoochee from California saved my life. They brought me back to shore and performed the necessary steps to revive. For that, I am genuinely grateful. After this traumatic event, I found myself never wanting to return to the water, and since then, I haven’t.
Diving was new for me, and honestly, it has allowed me the strengthen those tenants in my life of trust and courage. Diving enables me to escape from the past, focus on the future, and prepare for the next adventure. In my last dive in Bonaire, I was allowed, not only to meet new divers, but also to experience the everyday life of a diver.
Stew had us on a tight schedule, which included making sure you understood how to set up your own equipment for diving and how to inspect the equipment of your fellow divers. Our last dive was a sunrise dive and this dive was special to me. It allowed me to focus on myself, forget about the past and prepare for the future. I am grateful for the opportunities afforded to me through this program and the ability to continue to heal within.”
Harry Lee Young
US Army/National Guard
Recruiter and Retention Specialist
With this fundraising campaign, called “Dive 20”, we set a goal to reach $5,000 in order to purchase new regulators and other dive-related equipment. If you are interested in supporting our cause, please donate via https://www.paypal.com/donate/?cmd=_s-xclick…
                                                                               Harry Lee Young & Stew
Randy Deom
“I believe Post-Traumatic Stress comes from having a severe traumatic experience. It teaches you something about yourself. It is an experience that you may or may not have to live with for the rest of your life. I don’t believe that it is a disorder. I don’t buy in or consign with “mainstream PTSD”. Those that may have not experienced something traumatic, seem to think that they have the right to call it a disorder. My brain has just been altered in a particular way that allows me to stay alive like anyone else. It just changes my outlook on how I manage my life. It’s the way the brain changes. Somehow, we end up being made to believe that we are broken. However, in reality, we are not. Yes, I still have a hard time with trust and people. I believe these are just a result of the experiences I went through. I am still mentally strong enough to wake up, be a loving dad, and go to work. The use of the word ‘broken’ has to change because we are not broken, we just see things differently.
I also have multiple other injuries from my time in the service. My neck, back, both shoulders, and a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). After I retired and came out of my neck surgery in 2015, my previous wife signed me up with the Wounded Warrior Project. About a month later, she got a dinner invitation from them and she found out about a SCUBA dive event where they would pay for it. I was intrigued but I was preparing to start school in Radiology and we didn’t have much money so I was hesitant. She signed me up anyway and Stew reached out to me. I had no idea what to expect. From the first moment I put my head underwater and started breathing and seeing fish, I was immediately hooked. If I could get a job where I could dive all the time, I would be on board in a second.
It’s peaceful. Enjoying what nature has to offer. I have always been an adventurer, like Jacques Cousteau, and I always love to try and discover things. I mean, 70% of our world is covered in water, right? And we know that there are people digging up artifacts in Egypt and on the surface, it’s similar to knowing that you could be 90 feet underwater and there is a 1 in a trillion chance that you may have discovered something that has been lost for years. That idea, or sense of adventure, is what I look forward to when I dive. That is the adventure for me.
Before I started diving I was in a very dark place. I was the ‘breadwinner’ of the house and the expectations that came with it. This was the one place where once or twice a year that offered something attainable for me. It was an escape from the expectations. The stress from always having to be this guy. It brings me joy. I work 12 days straight and 2 days off. With this lifestyle from work, the thought of more time in the water and diving is my escape. I have a lot on my plate and that is my escape.
My bubbles are where I am at. Stay out of my bubbles. When I am on the surface, my situational awareness is always switched on. Diving and breathing out my bubbles allows me to shut that off. This is my bubble.”
Randy Deom
Sergeant First Class
US Army
1999 – 2015
With this fundraising campaign, called “Dive 20”, we set a goal to reach $5,000 in order to purchase new regulators and other dive-related equipment. If you are interested in supporting our cause, please donate via https://www.paypal.com/donate/?cmd=_s-xclick…
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Chad Doncaster
“Sometime during my Dad’s time in the Navy, he received a Presidential Citation for Heroism and I found it by accident when I was about 11. He won’t tell me the details as to how or why he earned it, but it’s very significant to me and why I decided to go into the military. What I do know is that he saved it from his time on the USS Forrestal between 1972 and 1974. You know, when I learned that my dad had such recognition, it solidified what I was going to do and made me realize I wanted to be just like him. My dad is larger than life to me. He is my hero.
I’ve got a few injuries. My knees, shoulders, back, everything. I was a Combat Dirt Bike Operator in the Marines and rode a Kawasaki KLR 650 and I was also a 240 gunner and communicator. I crashed a lot preparing for the invasion of Iraq in the beginning of 2003. I dislocated my shoulder, screwed up my back, knees, everything.
I was introduced to diving by some buddies that were diving in Cali in 1999. They had the dive gear and being the good marines that we are, we shared with each other. When I was sent to Walter Reed in December 2013, I met Linda Rasnake, the Family Readiness Support Assistant at the Soldier Recovery Unit at Walter Reed and she had a SCUBA program called ‘Patriots for Disabled Diving’. And from there I went through the process of getting my certifications and just kept going, 13 specialties later. That was one of the perks that the hospital had and helped provide me some direction.
When I am on nitrox, the deeper and longer I dive, the better I feel. I always feel better when I am diving. My knees, back and my entire body just feels better. I am closing in on 100 dives and every time I dive, all of the problems in the world disappear. With nitrox diving, the chronic pain subsides. During the 45 min or an hour of diving, there is nothing wrong in the world.
It has definitely changed my plans on what my twilight of life is going to be. I was sold on living a calm hunting and fishing life. I still might, but SCUBA Diving changed my outlook on life. It has made me more peaceful. The stress of everyday life is gone. It is very rare that someone is miserable when they are finished diving. My friends even noticed that I smile and look happier when I am diving.
Just like anything else. It is an escape from the everyday world. I have witnessed and helped double amputees or people with all kinds of disabilities dive. And every single one of them is smiling from ear to ear when they come up. We can have the shittest dive, and you’re still smiling after.
Honestly, there are 80 million ways you can go about de-stressing your life, but if you can get through the initial apprehension (fear of going underwater) and get into the water, everything in your life will be better because of diving. You get absorbed into the serenity of it. Whatever bottom or down time you can have, is always a better time than when on land. My Dive 20 now is different from what it was 15 years ago and I am ok with that.”
Chad Doncaster
Marines 1998–2003
Army National Guard 2008–2016
Military Police
With this fundraising campaign, called “Dive 20”, we set a goal to reach $5,000 in order to purchase new regulators and other dive-related equipment. If you are interested in supporting our cause, please donate via https://www.paypal.com/donate/?cmd=_s-xclick…
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Rafael Paniagua

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Rafael Paniagua

“I grew up in New York City with my Puerto Rican mom. When I turned 17, she gave me 2 choices, join the military or “dig a hole”. One day while sitting at a park with my friends and drinking a beer, an Army Sgt walked towards us and said to me “Looks like you could use some better direction. Take this brochure home and stop by when you’re ready.”. My mom didn’t even hesitate. She took me by the wrist and pulled me to the recruiting station. Since I was underage, she signed the waiver right away and said, “Now go get your GED”.
In 2003, I was deployed to Iraq where an RPG struck us and threw me against the door of our Humvee. After I stood up and tried to collect my thoughts from what just happened, naturally I went to the medics to get checked out. They cleared me and said I was ok and very lucky. A few years later, in 2006-2007, while I was deployed to Djibouti, Africa, I noticed these headaches developing and not going away. The best diagnosis or explanation I could get was “they’re just migraines.” In 2010 when I came home, I knew I needed a better explanation. Something just didn’t feel right. The VA hospital didn’t hesitate to start testing and I was hospitalized right away since they found 3 aneurysms and wanted to perform an emergency brain surgery immediately.”
My wife convinced me to connect with the Wounded Warriors Project. She’s amazing and knew I needed to be able to connect to others. At one of their events that they were hosting I was introduced to Stew and the Handicapped Scuba Diving Alliance. Stew told me they provide SCUBA dive training for those that have disabilities and with other vets in a pool where the depth was controlled at max 4ft.
Why is diving important to me? Because it brings me peace. Once I am completely submerged underwater, there is no pain, I can be thoughtless. Peaceful is the only description of this whole new world. All I can hear is the bubbles created by me. NO distractions. NO other sounds. Only peace.
This world also allows my wife and I to connect on another level. It provides us a common connection where we both feel love and love for each other. It allows us to travel, and it provides a peaceful setting for us. Even though my wife doesn’t dive (yet), our dive community, or for better words dive family still provides a world where she feels important, welcome, and safe enough to just be herself. She’s amazing and I’m lucky to be her husband.
I have witnessed paralyzed people SCUBA dive and come back to the surface describing the feeling of painlessness. Once you learn the most basic skill to diving (breathing), all you have to do is show up no matter your ability.
My “dive 20”? It’s my dream place. Cozumel, deep down watching the turtles dance, play, glide “fly” underwater limitless. I think about it all the time. I visualize it because, at my Dr’s office, she also dives and shows me pictures every time I visit. It allows me to stay humble with how beautiful and important my life is, and our oceans are.
Best advice I can offer anyone on how to get to your Dive 20? Just be nice. Because you have no clue what someone else is going through.”
Rafael Paniagua
Army National Guard 1977 – 2015
Infantry, Soldier 11B
Chris Cote
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Chris Cote

I started at a college called SUNY Farmingdale to study Veterinary Sciences. Since I loved animals so much. I barely finished the first semester. It was going through the anatomy course that made it feel like hell and that I was still hurting or torturing the animal. In 1989, I decided to join the Marines where I served for the next 3 years. In 1994, I decided to join the Army and serve out of Jamaica, NY for about a year. Then in 1995, I changed over to the Air Force until I retired in 2017. In total and all in all, about 28 years of service with 20 years fully active.

From the tours and incidents I encountered in Afghanistan, I wound up with TBI and PTS (Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress). Even today, I still manage through some physical balance issues, hearing loss, and even some memory loss. It took me over 2 years to be convinced to talk about struggles, let alone how. My wife was also struggling so much, to the point where she almost left me. You see, the generation I grew up with taught me not to talk about my problems. So I never knew how to communicate them. Thankfully, the Air Force has this program called ‘Air Force Wounded Warrior Program’ where regardless of an injury or struggle, help was there. Today, I am one of the ambassadors of the program and I use this opportunity to tell other people, especially guys, “It’s ok to talk it through, this is how I did it and I want to see you all feel the same way.”

In 2011, while I was still in active duty status, we decided to adopt Chance, a Black Mouth Cur pup. About 3 years later, we went through the training for him to be certified as a service dog. It took a while, but then one day on the phone while researching, we were led to Dori at Paws of War out of Smithtown, NY. Ever since then, who needs Tiger Woods when you got Chance by your side. Best decision we ever made.

Ever since I was a kid, I loved the idea and fantasized about Scuba Diving and the underwater world. The stories, Jacques Cousteau, whatever ocean-related story on TV and with just a few channels. All of it. Until my parents took me to see the movie Jaws at a drive-in. I was so horrified, I never even wanted to take a bath after that. Then later on in life (2017) and after my military time, the Wounded Warriors Project ran an event for SCUBA diving to get us certified. After that, I fell in love with the water again and everything felt normal again.

Generally, I am not comfortable being around a lot of people. Even when I am speaking in front of a crowd. So for me, the water was another obstacle and fear that I was able to overcome. Learning how to dive, allowed me to realize once you get out of your comfort zone, everything is going to be ok. You see, with diving and diving with a good dive buddy, nothing else matters. The public doesn’t matter. The news doesn’t matter. It’s a world where even being an introvert is not only acceptable, but I can be myself and not have to worry about judgement.

I am less stressed, it’s my outlet. It balances my confidence because you know as soon as your head submerges and you start breathing air through your regulator, nothing else matters. It’s like being in space, and more importantly, it’s helped my wife and I grow by allowing us to reconnect. It keeps me grounded and grounded for us. It’s not a limiting hobby. Regardless of what you are missing physically, mentally, or emotionally, you’re limitless. It doesn’t stop you from achieving anything.

I’m blessed. Perception is different for everyone, and you have to break your boundaries.”

Chris Cote, Security Forces Specialist, Master Sargeant, United States Air Force (Retired)



Nick Lucarelli

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Nick Lucarelli

“In 1995 I was in college and felt that I didn’t have a good direction. I needed a change of pace, so I joined the Army National Guard. I knew it was going to help me with college. I was only supposed to be in while I was in college. Next thing you know, 20 years and a couple of deployments later, I left with an Honorable/Medical discharge with just over 20 years. It was for my kids, I was doing this for my family.
PTSD came from the constant day in and day out and high adrenaline and the going going going. Especially from being deployed for a while and being in the Middle East. Then after coming home, everything just stops. You go from a life where you’re constantly on high alert and the hustle-bustle that comes with it. And then you come back to civilian life and all you hear is a lot of excuses. You know, people are very flakey and hard to motivate. And trying to mellow down. I think I did about 30 months over 2 deployments. And 6 years later, it still lingers. Today, I am at the point where it is something I will have to live with for the rest of my life.
When I heard about SCUBAdiving, I had no desire. The thought of going underwater and not being able to breathe was scary. It was a fear of mine. But then I just got to a point in my life where it’s like, ‘You know what? Whatever I am doing or trying is just not working. Let’s try something different.’ Even though I had every excuse not to do it, I did it. Now I have zero excuse not to do it.
There are so many benefits to SCUBAdiving. Physically, mentally, and, I would say, spiritually for myself. I have so many aches and pains throughout my body. I could go from the top of my head down to my feet and every day I will feel multiple things throughout the day. For some reason, when I get underwater, the back pain, the neck pain, the PTSD, the pain in my knees, they all drift away. It just goes away. The only thing I can focus on is living in the moment and enjoying the moment. I am in a better place because before SCUBA diving, I could not do activities with all of my issues. But once I am underwater, I felt that I could finally have something to look forward to. It’s a therapy session. It’s finding my inner self. It allows me to focus on myself and my mind doesn’t race around.
My ”Dive 20” is a constant work in progress and I am happy about that. I don’t have to rush. I am forced to slow down and I like that. I realized that I cannot keep trying to accomplish things that I have already done. But at the end of the day, trying new things has been working for me.”
Nick Lucarelli
Army National Guard (Retired)
With this fundraising campaign, called “Dive 20”, we set a goal to reach $5,000 in order to purchase new regulators and other dive-related equipment. If you are interested in supporting our cause, please donate via:
Ian Azeredo
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Ian Azeredo

“SCUBA diving was never on my mind since I was so much into skydiving. Then, in 2015, I was living in Philly and my then-girlfriend Linda was living in the northern part of New Jersey doing her thing and already into SCUBA diving. She’s inspiring and I wanted to somehow “connect” with her more, especially given the distance. So I started taking NAUI courses and I found there was a similar connection to skydiving. It was the feeling of “flying” that sold me. You still feel fluent with body movement. One was just moving a lot faster and the other is just mellow. A sudden twist of the wrist in the sky and you could easily turn over versus having to twist your entire body, cross your legs and even stretch the arms out in order to attempt the same move. But the feeling and idea of flying remained.

July 4th, 2019. A classic example of ‘out of time and a hard landing’. It was a good parachute, but apparently, I hit the ground going about 60 – 70 mph. It was just an accident that left my left leg completely paralyzed. Even though I try to think of ways to change the outcome, I am still the Chief Engineer for the design and operation of search and rescue hoists in helicopters. The truth is, you can only move forward, one step at a time.

Diving turned into a way to remove all of the outside world and a humbling way to experience an entirely new world. It was a way to experience another way of life. A whole different approach of experiencing things – movements, perceptions, sights, the features of fish, life in the ocean, the details only the underwater world can offer. I am always excited and interested to see what I can do and what I can see and what I can experience. Regardless of my past experiences in life, the thought of diving keeps me excited and wanting to see more. It keeps the energy between Linda and I up to speed so that we can continue living our amazing life.

My dive 20? Perception is reality and it is easy for most of us to just pigeonhole ourselves in our immediate and daily lives. Diving is a way to experience more. It changes how you see things. Imagine taking the perspective of the sky being the limit and adding depth to that equation.”

Ian Azeredo
Chief Engineer

With this fundraising campaign, called “Dive 20”, we set a goal to reach $5,000 in order to purchase new regulators and other dive-related equipment. If you are interested in supporting our cause, please donate via https://www.paypal.com/donate/…


Linda Farkas Azeredo
“Hi! I am Ian’s wife, Linda and I am a Chemist that makes flavors and fragrances😃
Ian and I met through an online dating site in 2013, and our first date was actually skydiving. Less than a year later, I moved to northern New Jersey from Philadelphia because of work. Getting established in the beginning was difficult, especially with Ian still in Philly. But he was very supportive and encouraged me to find something for myself. That’s when I decided to take a SCUBA diving course. I grew up swimming and loving the ocean, so it just felt like a natural direction and another way to reconnect to the water. It even allowed me to discover another layer of confidence and the dive community helped me establish a feeling of home.
During my open water course, I felt relaxed. There is something therapeutic about being alone with your bubbles. Later on, I decided to join the Search and Recovery team. It was an excuse to keep diving and in places where others can not dive. It allows you to push your own boundaries.
Everyone experiences SCUBA differently. Even though you may be holding hands and diving together, each person’s experience is different. You never see the same dive twice. Even if you are diving in the same place with the same person, every dive is a unique experience that you can make your own. Not everyone SCUBA dives so it’s not a common experience which makes it really cool.
In 2015, Ian found a job closer to me in North Jersey and we got our first place together. Between SCUBA diving and skydiving, our relationship continued to grow and get stronger. Diving was something we could enjoy and enjoy together. Then in April of 2017, we got engaged. And he proposed to me twice! Once while SCUBA diving and once while skydiving. We had a small, intimate wedding in the Grand Cayman Islands, the same year in December.
The first time we dove together was at a place called Dutch Springs, PA in April 2015. After Ian’s accident, I thought diving was going to be off the table. Then one day, I was looking around online and saw a picture of a person who was a quadriplegic SCUBA diving. I realized that Ian could return to diving and also learned that not all dive instructors have been trained in how to adapt SCUBA to fit the needs of people who have had injuries. So I continued searching the internet and that’s when I found HSDA. I called Stew right away and told him I wanted to become my husband’s Dive Buddy through his program and Ian piped up from behind me saying “Let’s go!”. Next thing you know, we were in the pool learning how to dive again! Our first open water dive we did together after the accident was back in Dutch Springs in July of 2021.
When Ian had his accident, of course, my life changed as well. That year went from an active traveling adventurous lifestyle to spending all available time caring for my husband. But to be honest, I couldn’t imagine not being by his side. Home never felt like home knowing he was in the hospital. But here we are and diving together is a reminder that we have our life together. I am always learning something new and pushing my own level of comfort.”
Linda Farkas
With this fundraising campaign, called “Dive 20”, we set a goal to reach $5,000 in order to purchase new regulators and other dive-related equipment. If you are interested in supporting our cause, please donate via https://www.paypal.com/donate/?cmd=_s-xclick…
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Asif Haider
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Asif Haider
“Humvees are what attracted me to the military. Originally I wanted to join the Marines, but with guidance from family and friends, in 2004, I ended up joining the Air Force instead.
I’m pretty sure the PTSD came from while serving in Iraq and Korea. In 2006/2007, while in Iraq escorting prisoners, the situation was always stressful. Several times we got disarmed and the chain of command refused to allow us to defend ourselves. Then in 2008, I was at Osan Air Force Base in Songtan, Korea. Day in and day out we were always on a high level of alert because we always had to be mentally ready. There were numerous sources alerting us to Pakistanis targeting military people and their families. We constantly felt ‘targeted’ in some of the strictly Korean residential towns even while off duty. Problem was, we never had the opportunity to ‘switch off’ even when not in uniform. It was a constant feeling of being ‘targeted’ in the area because of intel about locals targeting military personnel.
I was introduced to SCUBA diving in 2016 at an event run by HSDA and was certified at Dutch Springs that same year. SCUBA diving taught me that once you know you can overcome an obstacle, you want to keep overcoming obstacles. It gave me the ability to say here are my boundaries.
Diving engaged me to meditate and even helped motivate me to continue meditating. I have this fear of heights and the thought of diving 60 to 100 feet scared the shit out of me. But somehow when you’re down there and going deeper, the anxiety fades away and I can breathe. Once I realized I could overcome my fear of heights, I wanted to keep overcoming it. Diving helped me overcome a depth obstacle. And so, diving deeper is the ‘visual’ focal point that helps keep me in my meditation. I think about being underwater and the mindfulness that comes with it. It provides a focal point that matters, breathing.
Best advice I can suggest on how to get to your “Dive 20”? Smile at a stranger. If you can do that, you can accomplish anything.”
Asif Haider
Air Force
Force Protection Specialist
2004 – 2014
Kevin McMahon
“Being number six of ten siblings certainly had its moments. After growing up in an Irish/American home with nine other siblings and watching my hard-working blue-collared dad, I realized I wanted something different and better. I didn’t want to work as hard as my dad. One of my brothers joined the Marines. I thought it might be a great opportunity for me as well and could help me go to university. In 1980, I joined the Marines. All in all, I did about 31 years and 4 combat tours between the Marines and the Army National Guard and retired in 2011. I’ve got some back issues. Multiple compression fractures in my spine from a few hard helicopter landings.
I actually started diving in 1986 when I was 24. But I was not really an active diver until years later when a good friend at the Wounded Warrior Project told me they were having an event with HSDA where they were doing SCUBA diving certifications with veterans. He invited me to join him at the event and my interest in diving was renewed.
My interest in SCUBA diving stayed mostly because of the comradery. The atmosphere, the community, the common interest, the like-minded people. It makes every moment worth it. I am ok with driving 6 hours to help prepare for a weekend event and dive maybe an hour, then spend another 6 hours driving home. And I will love every moment of it.
SCUBA diving has helped improve my connection with my family. My kids have gotten certified and last month my nephew joined us for a weekend at Dutch Springs to start his SCUBA journey. I have also had the opportunity to share my skills and experience with junior divers. Being a part of the dive community has given me an opportunity to give back and the more you give, the more you get in return. We all have our ‘story’ but underwater everything disappears. All you hear are your bubbles and everything else fades away. If you can breathe, you can dive. Do not DIS your ability. Diving is a mental sanctuary for me. I am always looking forward to my next dive with other like-minded individuals…. Preferably in Bonaire with HSDA.
Best advice on how someone can achieve their “Dive 20”? Have no fear of the unknown. With this planet being 75% water, there is so much more to it than what we know and see.”
Kevin McMahon
Colonel (Retired)
Army National Guard
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With this fundraising campaign, called “Dive 20”, we set a goal to reach $5,000 in order to purchase new regulators and other dive-related equipment. If you are interested in supporting our cause, please donate via https://www.paypal.com/donate/?cmd=_s-xclick…
Jennifer Allen
“The only time I’m able to stop my mind from roaming to the sands of Iraq is when I’m active and outside in nature. It’s the only place where I’m able to find some kind of peace or a way to settle this constant static in my brain. When I look down at my hands there is this red blood that I haven’t been able to wash away through the years. I was a combat Medic in the 101st Airborne, deployed in Iraq from 2005-2006.
I signed up for a SCUBA diving course about 6 years ago through the Wounded Warrior Project. Stew Snyder was my instructor. I loved being in the water and learning about diving. In the second part of my course, we went to Dutch Springs in PA. I met up with Stew and his amazing instructors and discovered how the underwater world can silence my demons and helped me to rediscover something I lost a long time ago my inner peace. There was no static or noise, even my tinnitus seemed to fade.
SCUBA diving changed my life. Two years ago, I was invited on a trip to Bonaire that Stew created for myself and fellow combat veterans. That trip is where I truly fell in love with diving.
When I’m under the water it’s like being in a whole new world. A safe haven to discover and wander through. The incredible depths of color under the ocean took my breath away. There are constant sightings of the most unbelievable creatures and species all around me; with the most gorgeous and clear blue water that I’ve ever been in. The static stops and the blood on my hands are washed away, and I’m satiated. I would absolutely call that my Dive 20!
SCUBA diving has touched my life so deeply in the sense that I’m laughing again and I mean a good belly laugh, I’m getting out of my house and diving and I’ve never been this passionate about something. I feel like I’m becoming a human again, the person that I have been yearning to be for so long. I am eternally grateful to Stew and his amazing team!”
Jennifer Allen
Combat Medic
US Army
With this fundraising campaign, called “Dive 20”, we set a goal to reach $5,000 in order to purchase new regulators and other dive-related equipment. If you are interested in supporting our cause, please donate via https://www.paypal.com/donate/?cmd=_s-xclick…

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Hometown Heroes:   Monmouth County Sheriff Department and Monmouth Country Howell Twp. Fire Personnel.
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For over 19 years the Handicapped Scuba Diving Alliance and HSANJSCUBA have trained many police, Sheriffs, and firefighters in the skills of scuba diving and search and recovery.
This past weekend we had the privilege of training some of our local first responders from the Monmouth County Sheriff Department and Monmouth Country Howell Twp. Fire Personnel. Their skills will be used to help save lives and recover objects from zero-visibility waters. These individuals are role models already and plan to do a lot more.
Heroes come in many forms. There are many different capacities in which one can serve and help others. Any job where you are kind to your sisters and brothers makes you a hero. We are forever grateful to those who serve today and always.
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Katie Schlechter
“Don’t let my wheelchair fool you! I have a big personality and a sarcastic sense of humor. 🤪 I have been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy since preschool up until I was 21. I have always had motor skills problems and a mild learning disability. Then, I was 12, I developed epilepsy. When I was around 15, in my sophomore year of high school, I started using a wheelchair because of my muscular problems. I was still able to walk some but it helped me get around easier. Then, in 2012, I broke my hip. It was then that I was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy. I haven’t been able to walk since I broke my hip.
My excellent PT people introduced me to SCUBA diving and helped me get involved. I have always had a passion for the water and have been swimming my entire life. I think I started swimming when I was one.
Being in a wheelchair, I can’t be free to move around. But once I get in the water, I am free! I feel amazing when I am in the water. When we are done in the pool, I am completely exhausted. The next day all my muscles are sore because they are not used to working so hard, which I guess is a good thing. I haven’t been in the water since the pandemic started but I can’t wait to get back in!
Diving can help people with disabilities because you feel amazing in the water. You get to use muscles that don’t normally get used when you are in a wheelchair. You don’t need to use them while in the wheelchair but when you are in the water everything works.
My advice for someone who is nervous about trying SCUBA? It’s ok to be afraid because it’s your first time. But every time you go back you get more confidence. Every time! I’ve done it for years and I love it. It’s an amazing experience. Don’t be scared because there are amazing people with you the whole time. One on one and they won’t let you get hurt. It is an amazing and fun experience.”
Katie Schlechter
With this fundraising campaign, called “Dive 20”, we set a goal to reach $5,000 in order to purchase new regulators and other dive-related equipment. If you are interested in supporting our cause, please donate via https://www.paypal.com/donate/?cmd=_s-xclick…
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Rose Farra
“My name is Rose Farra. I am starting my senior year of high school and am in the National Honor Society. I have one more year of high school after this year and will be a “Super Senior”. I love working with animals and after high school, I would like to work with animals. I am nice and kind and always willing to help people. I have autism and am in a special needs class at school. I like school. When I am not in school, I do shooting (rifle), archery, and horseback riding. I am also a member of the Food and Nutrition Summit where I arrange food donations and set up/maintain a food pantry that will open next week in the Freehold Library. I don’t have a lot of friends at school but I do have a bunch of friends from my outside activities.
My grandma always encouraged me to be active. She brought home a flyer from her gym about SCUBA diving and I thought it would interesting. I wanted to try it. The first time I went I was nervous but once I got in the pool I liked it. When I am diving, I feel excited and happy. It’s a whole different world when you are underwater. The water against my skin feels refreshing and calming. You can see a lot more stuff underwater and I love hearing the bubbles.
Diving is important to me because it makes me feel more like a person. It gives me an opportunity to explore new things and improve my strength and confidence. It has also helped me determine my strengths and weaknesses.
If someone was nervous about trying SCUBA, I would tell them it’s not that hard. You’ll get used to it once you get in and I’ll be there to help you along the way. SCUBA diving allows people to improve their skills and try something new. It lets them expand their limits.”
Rose Farra
With this fundraising campaign, called “Dive 20”, we set a goal to reach $5,000 in order to purchase new regulators and other dive-related equipment. If you are interested in supporting our cause, please donate via https://www.paypal.com/donate/?cmd=_s-xclick…
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