This has been one heck of a week, including Flag Day and the 242nd Army birthday, but also a tragedy that struck my former congressional colleagues. I truly enjoy being a “Guardian of the Republic” and doing my best to speak up, share insights, thoughts, and perspectives about the current state of affairs in America, and indeed the world.
There’s so much I want to illuminate y’all on, but there are only so many hours in a day. And sometimes it’s necessary to step away, refresh, and recharge the batteries. And such a time has come. I don’t have to tell you how much I love God, this country, my family, and the men and women who sign a blank check to defend it. What some of you may not know is I am also a PADI Master Scuba Diver and love to relax my mind, body and soul in a way only the water can do. So, you can imagine how excited I was when I found a group that combines these two passions of mine, and are truly touching the lives of our injured veterans…The Dive Pirates Foundation.
So, greetings to y’all from the absolutely beautiful Cayman Brac Beach Resort where I arose this Saturday morning and did a breathtaking four-mile run along the Caribbean Sea and swam a few easy laps in the pool. I’m about to head out and get some “bottom time.” I’ve been called many things and earned a few titles, but these next couple of days I’m a Dive Pirate, and my nickname is Deep Sea Gunslinger.
Back in 2005, this small group of divers got together, raised a little money, and took a few injured veterans diving. Like so many good patriotic Americans, they just wanted to give back to some of the young men and women injured while serving in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, show them a sport activity that evens the playing field, providing them the feeling they can move and swim freely; without a prosthetic, without the wheelchairs.
For the last 13 years what the Dive Pirates have done is introduce these exceptional men and women, those willing to give us their last full measure of devotion, into a culture of people who make instant friends on dive trips. People who celebrate what each other can do, not what they can’t, and have a good time. What I found was a group of soldiers who’ve discovered peace in a world that’s hard to come back to after deployment. As well, they’ve reinstated that special bond – brotherhood — with both military and civilians in redefining themselves after a life-changing injury.
Some of you know the #22Kill ring that I wear on my salute hand, trigger finger. That simple black ring signifies the approximately 22 veterans on average per day in the United States who are taking their own lives. Dive Pirates exists so that maybe, just maybe, more of our brother and sister veterans can find that peace in the open ocean, beneath the surface in that silent tranquility, just like Lieutenant Dan did in the movie “Forest Gump.”
I was introduced to Dive Pirates by their co-founders Barbara Thompson and Sophie Wimberley back in 2015 upon relocating to Dallas. They’re both Houston natives. Last June I hopped on a plane to Cayman Brac, first time, to join this group for a few days and see what it was all about.
I met United States Air Force (Retired) Staff Sgt. Michael Malarsie, who was on his second dive trip after being a first time Dive Pirate paricipant back in 2014. I had to share with you this video about why this Airman, blinded by taking an IED to the face — yes I said blind — now loves scuba diving and the Dive Pirates!
My dive buddy for this first trip, and then later last year in Cozumel, was US Army (Retired) Captain Marlene Krpata who lost her leg to an IED in Iraq. Marlene and I have had some very heart-to-heart talks about the spirit of a Warrior and being with her strengthens me.
Since 2005 when Barbara and Dr. Sophie started Dive Pirates, they’ve now trained more than 52 disabled veterans, 49 civilians with disabilities, and 103 adaptive dive buddies who know how to dive with those adaptive divers for years to come. Now that’s not even counting the 12 new 2017 diving experience recipients this year. In this class of recipients who will earn their chops in the Caribbean Sea, will be one US Army (Retired) Staff Sergeant Luke Murphy. SSG Murphy was part of the 101st Airborne Division deployed to Iraq in 2006 when he lost his right leg, and portions of his left leg, to an Iranian made explosive force penetrator (EFP) improvised explosive device (IED). And to think, we gave billions of dollars in US taxpayer funds to the number one state sponsor of Islamic terrorism? It was my honor to sponsor Luke and ensure he had a no cost experience to dive in Cayman Brac.
Now this just doesn’t happen, this group works year around networking, training, and fundraising to give back. I want you to go to www.divepirates.org to see what I’m talking about, and pick your favorite way to donate, there are lots of options from which to choose. And maybe, perhaps, one day, you will join us, and I can also refer to you as a fellow Dive Pirate. But, more importantly, being here with these outstanding men and women just recharges me. It makes me realize even more that the greatest amongst us are those who courageously and humbly take an oath to support and defend our Constitution, meaning our way of life. And when I’m in the company of Michael, Marlene, and Luke, it’s like no other feeling. And when I’m down there, 60, 70, 80 feet below the ocean surface with them, yeah, it fogs up my mask as it brings tears to my eyes!
So, I’ll be sharing with you pictures, video, and scenes from the 2017 Dive Pirates adventure in Cayman Brac…oh yeah, there’s still room for the Hawaii and Cozumel trips later this year.
More when I surface tomorrow….Diver Down!
[Learn more about Allen West’s vision for this nation in his book Guardian of the Republic: An American Ronin’s Journey to Faith, Family and Freedom]