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Women veteran divers assist National Park Service in underwater surveys

Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh greets veterans upon their return to Channel Islands National Park. The veterans were thrilled to meet him.  Walsh, a long time supporter of the Channel Islands, was at the park to meet with the superintendent. (Brent Sumner/Instudio8 via NPS)

Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh greets veterans upon their return to Channel Islands National Park. The veterans were thrilled to meet him. Walsh, a long time supporter of the Channel Islands, was at the park to meet with the superintendent. (Brent Sumner/Instudio8 via NPS)

VENTURA, Calif. — Three female veterans of the Armed Services joined the National Park Service (NPS) for a week conducting shipwreck surveys at Channel Islands National Park Nov. 22.

The veterans, each with distinguished careers serving the U.S. Army and Navy, are sponsored by the Wounded American Veterans Experience SCUBA (WAVES)—a program that helps veterans recover from combat and non-combat related trauma including PTSD.

The veterans are part of an all-female NPS and NOAA dive team including a marine biologist, archaeologist, boat captain, dive instructor and submerged resources expert.

“The NPS and WAVES have been working together for several years to support injured veterans,” said Channel Islands National Park Superintendent Ethan McKinley. “We are honored to provide these veterans an opportunity to heal and to experience the spectacular kelp forests at Channel Islands National Park.”

Gina Harden, a veteran who started her U.S. Navy career as the 7th female military deep sea diver, is a support diver sponsored by the Women’s Divers Hall of Fame. At the onset of the trip Harden said, “I am lucky, blessed, and honored to be here. With my 35 years as a Navy diver, I can help mentor these veterans, to listen, to be a sounding board, and to support them.”

WAVES divers Bonnie Casler and Alexandria McIntyre, each U.S. Army veterans, are novice divers who will be diving at the Channel Islands for their first time.

Casler, a retired Army Master Sergeant who served for 23 years, describes her experience diving as restorative.

“It’s the calm underwater, the bubbles, the peace and quiet, that I haven’t felt in years,” she said.

McIntyre, an Army signal support systems specialist who served just shy of three years, said it was a big deal.

“This is a big deal to step out of those safe zones, those comfort zones. WAVES has brought me the sense of comfort and confidence. Things get better, you just have to find the thing that gets you better. We found WAVES,” she said.

Casler and McIntyre will also find for their first time on this venture, the camaraderie of a network of experienced female divers and the magnificent kelp forests and historic shipwrecks of the Channel Islands.

They will gain exposure to the science and preservation mission of the NPS as they document and assess the shipwrecks and other underwater historical resources in the waters surrounding Channel Islands National Park.

About the WAVES Project

WAVES Project is a nonprofit organization that was established to provide wounded veterans with service connected disabilities to experience the freedom and challenge of scuba diving. Their mission recognizes the unique properties of the aquatic environment that are ideal for combat wounded veterans as they rehabilitate from various injuries received in combat such as amputations, spinal cord injuries, PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injuries, along with a host of other injuries received in battle.

Scuba diving takes the advantages of the properties of water, including weightless and limited audio input, allowing combat wounded veterans to exercise in a therapeutic environment. They provide training in specialized SCUBA equipment suited to the person based on their physical needs.

About the Women Divers Hall of Fame

Women Divers Hall of Fame is an international non-profit professional honor society whose mission is dedicated to recognizing and honoring woman divers that have made outstanding contributions to the arts, science, medicine, media, deep sea exploration, underwater archaeology, medicine, equipment technology, diving, conservation, and more.

Information provided by NPS

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