Filed under: Diving
Physical and mental rehab for wounded warriors can come in the form of an undersea adventure. A 2011 study at Johns Hopkins University looked at the effects of a four-day scuba certification class on a group of veterans with spinal injuries. The benefits noted included improved muscle movements, reduction of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, and improved sensitivity/sensation for those with certain spinal cord injuries.
Being in the water offers a zero-gravity environment that enables Warfighters to develop the confidence and ability to do activities they may not feel comfortable doing on land. There are organizations that provide scuba lessons and outings for wounded veterans and their families free of charge, such as Adaptive Heroes, Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba (SUDS), and Divers4Heroes, to name a few. Check for programs in your area and explore the great unknown!
Pentagon scientists are hoping to build special gear designed to turn divers into veritable Aquamen (and Aquawomen). Although it’s still in the research phase, the new system would protect divers from the adverse effects of diving too deep or surfacing too fast. Sensors would read and adjust to a diver’s physical signs as well as help control levels of nitric oxide to prevent the decompression sickness known as “the bends.” When a diver ascends too quickly, bubbles form inside the body, which can block the blood vessels in the spinal cord and disrupt the nervous system. It can be very painful and can lead to joint pain, paralysis, and even sudden death if a diver is not careful.
The new diving gear will be a portable and versatile system that can potentially serve for use in other special operations as well as for civilian divers. This system will have to be designed for the most extreme combat dive profiles, which sometimes require a 35,000-meter free-fall from an aircraft, diving 200 feet below the surface for at least two hours, surfacing, and immediately diving again, followed by continued protection after being picked up in an unpressurized aircraft. This is one of DARPA’s most recent Small Business Innovation research proposals for 2013.
Men and women in the military who operate in and around open water need protection against drowning and immersion syndrome. Quick response to cold-water immersion is important because of its immediate impact on the body. Immersion syndrome could cause cessation of breathing and/or cardiac arrest in certain people. Cold water causes a loss of heat much faster than cold air does and can quickly cause performance impairments such as not being able to fasten a life jacket or other safety equipment. Making an effort to tread water or swim only increases the body’s heat loss and hastens the onset of hypothermia.
A person alone can extend survival time by using body posture that covers areas especially vulnerable to heat loss. Those in the water should avoid movement and use the “heat-escape lessening posture” (H.E.L.P.). This posture minimizes the exposure to cold water of the individual’s groin and chest because the arms are folded across the chest and pressed to the sides and the knees are drawn up with the legs crossed at the ankles, creating a fetus-like position (see figure 13-6 in the article linked above for an illustration). Note that this technique does require the use of a personal floatation device that allows the knees to be drawn up.
If more than one person is involved, the “huddle position” should be used to reduce heat loss. In this position, individuals should press together their chests, abdomens, and groins. In addition to conserving each individual’s body heat, the huddle position helps prevent the swimmers from becoming separated before they are rescued, provides a larger rescue discovery target, improves morale, reduces shock and panic, and may reestablish a chain of command.
These survival techniques require practice and the use of personal flotation devices. Treading water in the H.E.L.P. position in heavy seas is a major challenge, and the huddle position requires that all participants be able to tread water, so being fit and prepared is essential.
Scuba diving is a risky sport. Divers should have a positive attitude, good level of physical fitness, and avoid exhibiting unsafe behaviors to minimize the risk of having a diving accident. Read more about safe diving practices avoid adverse events during a dive.