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A special dive trip to Bonaire – Meeting some true American heroes

(DiverWire) During a recent trip to the Caribbean island of Bonaire, I was invited to join a group of 10 physically-challenged US military veterans on one of their scuba diving experiences. Although it was a brief dive at the popular Klein Bonaire site, this dive was easily one of the most gratifying and special experiences I’ve had as a scuba diver.

Each year, the island of Bonaire along with the DEMA “BeADiver.com” project and a long-list of sponsors, invites a group of physically-challenged veterans to come down to the island to relax, do some scuba diving and receive some recognition for their efforts. This is the seventh year that the program has been offered.

“We do this because we can,” said Jack Chalk of Captain Don’s Habitat and a main sponsor and supporter of the program. “This is just one small way we can give something back and say thank you.”

This year’s group of Warriors included a diverse cast of characters. Some were missing an arm, some a leg, one both legs but was ALL of these brave men had was a sense of humor, respect and personality. When the guys weren’t pulling pranks on one another or comparing their prosthetic limbs, they were talking about what they saw during their dives.

“It was the greatest week of my life,” said Marine Redmond Ramos of California. “I had never heard of Bonaire before this trip, but I sure won’t be forgetting about this island and the fun times that we had.”

Ramos, a Marine corpsman who lost a leg during a rescue in Iraq, was a certified diver before arriving on the island. During one of the dives, his prosthetic leg was giving him problems – so he took it off and put it under his arm for the remainder of the dive. It was easily was of the most humorous images of the week.

“Look, if you’re not laughing you’re not living,” he says. “I thought people would be more uncomfortable with us. But they treated us just like any other diver and it was a great experience.”

According to Oceanic Worldwide’s Dan Emke, one of the major sponsors of the event, “This year’s Wounded Warrior week in Bonaire had special meaning to me because the majority of these young men were Marines – my former alma mater.  I could not have been prouder to witness the manner in which they conducted themselves – attacking, and overcoming, the rigorous challenges of our fine sport.  Some may have obvious physical disabilities, but the beauty of their spirits remains intact.  They showed us a new meaning of adapting, all the while maintaining a positive, can-do attitude throughout the week. Semper Fi to all of this year’s participants.”

The Warriors were easy to spot in the water, wearing colorful red, white and blue gear that was donated by Oceanic. The USA product line was introduced this year to help raise money for military veterans who want to learn to scuba dive.

Each of the Warriors received a package from Oceanic a few weeks before the trip. The gift was a special treat for Lt. Col Jeff Shearer. “When that package arrived in the mail, it was very special. It was a huge gift from some people I didn’t even know,” he recalls. “Then, when we got to Bonaire, well the island has won my wife and me over. We’ve never been treated so well.”

Bonaire is one of the world’s most popular scuba diving destinations. The Warriors were able to dive at nearly a dozen of the island’s dive sites. Plans are already being made for another group of Warriors to come to the island next summer.