Kim Humphrey of Amityville spent years in Navy intelligence listening to U.S. troops in distress.
“We could hear things but not be able to stop it,” she said.
But on Saturday, Humphrey and 10 other veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder were underwater at an East Meadow pool, far from the battlefield and learning how to scuba dive.
“When you’re in the water, there’s a peace,” said Humphrey, who spent 24 years in the military. “There’s no gunfire. There’s nobody giving orders.”
The 11 participated in the first scuba-diving class on Long Island sponsored by the Florida-based Wounded Warrior Project. The three-day class, taught by volunteers from Scuba Network Long Island in Carle Place, concludes Sunday. In July, participants will do four open-water dives in a Pennsylvania lake to receive their scuba-diving certificate.
Danny Rodriguez, who oversees Wounded Warrior’s scuba-diving program in the tri-state area, said scuba-diving was therapeutic.
“All of your troubles go away,” he said as veterans were suiting up before jumping in the pool at the Nassau County Aquatic Center. “They’re not concentrating on anything that brings them negativity. They’re just concentrating on breathing and the scenery. It’s calming.”
Many veterans with PTSD feel frustration at not being able to do everything they’ve trained for, Rodriguez said.
“You sometimes feel a lack of purpose in what you’re doing in your life,” Rodriguez said. “This tells them there’s still a lot they can learn, a lot they can do, a lot they can explore. There are a lot of new skills they can bring to the table.”
Martha Katz, owner of Scuba Network, said classes for students with PTSD took roughly double the time as other courses. The goal is to avoid pressure, so “it doesn’t bring back bad memories and bring more stress to their bodies and their mind,” she said.
The ratio of instructors to students is a maximum 3-1, compared with up to 10-1 in other classes. With a low ratio, instructors are able to look for signs of stress, she said.
Scuba student Ambi Burgos, 38, of Medford, said taking a class comprised entirely of veterans was a stress-reliever. Burgos, who served in combat in Iraq, said he was not worried about fellow students asking him uncomfortable questions about his military service.
“You’re around other people who know what you’re going through,” Burgos said. “You don’t have to explain anything.”