July 15, 2016
The DWH team after a successful dive in the CCMI coral nursery.
Jill Hottel serves as Executive Director of Diving With Heroes and as the advisor of the Diving With Heroes Designated Fund at the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia.

Diving with Heroes, a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, was founded in June 2014 with the purpose of unlocking the treasures contained in the underwater world and sharing them with those who have fought so valiantly to secure and defend our freedom. The men and women of the U.S. armed forces have dedicated themselves to protecting our freedoms; in return, we want to gift them with the freedom that diving provides. Our aim is to enable our hero divers to participate in dive trips and scuba experiences allowing them to live the diving lifestyle.

Diving with Heroes Designated Fund

When DWH was just getting started, Joe Brickey, one of the founders of Diving with Heroes and also co-founder and Chairman of the Board for Integrity Applications Incorporated, met with Eileen Ellsworth to discuss how the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia could help DWH get off to a great start. Joe set-up the Diving with Heroes Designated Fund as a means of providing early donors to DWH recognition for their charitable contributions while DWH waited to receive its tax-exempt designation from the IRS. The Diving with Heroes Designated Fund continues so that others may contribute as a means of thanking our service members and veterans for their service and sacrifice.

Since its inception, Diving with Heroes (DWH) has worked with service members and veterans who have been injured during their service to our nation. These heroes have been certified to dive as a means of physical, emotional and/or social rehabilitation. The objective is to ensure that the heroes’ rehabilitation and recreation does not end with certification, but is instead carried over into their everyday lives.

To date, DWH has sponsored four international excursions and two local (Washington, D.C., metro area) dive programs with divers from across the U.S. These divers represent all branches of the armed services, from active duty to medically retired to honorably discharged. All suffer from physical and/or mental injuries including amputation, bullet and shrapnel injuries, burns, spine and joint injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

Marine Science Initiative

Scuba divers are inexplicably linked to the ocean environment; obviously, our sport depends on healthy oceans. To engage our hero divers in this mission, DWH established its Marine Science Initiative (MSI). The objective is simple...provide opportunities for the divers to participate in on-going research and conservation efforts to broaden their view of the ocean environment. Engaging the divers in citizen science allows them to experience diving in a different way, elevating it from a recreational activity to a mission with measurable objectives. Citizen science efforts also educates the divers on how they can become better advocates for the oceans.

This past May DWH launched its MSI with an excursion to the Little Cayman Research Centre in the Cayman Islands. Diving with Heroes traveled with 10 divers, including four volunteer divers, to Little Cayman to work with researchers at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI) assisting them in on-going research and conservation projects. The Central Caribbean Marine Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to sustain marine biodiversity through research, education, outreach and conservation.

The divers were involved in a host of CCMI projects, including maintenance of their underwater coral nursery, participating in two lionfish culls (and subsequently studying the stomach contents of the fish caught to understand what fish species the lionfish were eating), conducting a lionfish census, and applying their military expertise to assist the researchers in constructing structures for future reef research projects.

The hero divers stayed on-site at the Little Cayman Research Centre allowing them to become enveloped in the day-to-day functions of the research station. In addition to working alongside the CCMI researchers, the divers were able to give back to our hosts by conducting a clean-up of the institutes’ nearly 1.5-mile-long beach.

To learn more about Diving with Heroes, you can visit their webpage at www.divingwithheroes.org. Be sure to check out their documentary, Sixty Feet of Freedom, which showcases the mission and purpose of Diving with Heroes, and explores how scuba diving can be a means of therapy for those suffering from PTSD. To make a donation to the Diving with Heroes Designated Fund, please visit the fund’s page at https://www.cfnova.org/donate/diving-with-heroes.
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