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JBLM soldiers use shark dive as therapy tool

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TACOMA, Wash. – Four soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium teamed up for a special mission. This time, to launch a new rehabilitation program to help soldiers with physical and mental wounds from war.

It’s called Operation Shark Dive.  The zoo is working with officials at JBLM and the Warrior Transition Battalion to provide the dives as a service to the local military community.

“Where does our oxygen come from?” asked one instructor.

It’s the essential question to breathing.  Deep, full breaths help to ease anxiety.

“Many of our soldiers are having some emotional rehabilitation that they’re going through so it gives them a chance to manage their emotions whether they’re high or they’re low,” said JBLM’s Warrior Transition Battalion chief physical therapist Louis McGranaghan.

It also readies the body for a dive with sharks.

“Bring back all the lines that we want to recite from jaws, right?” laughed McGranaghan.

With those thoughts circling their minds, these four JBLM soldiers got dressed to dive with sharks who will be circling them.

It’s a voluntary encounter with Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium’s 16 sharks.  Much like everything else the soldiers have done, it takes teamwork to prepare.  Then, down they go!  They’re in a box for an out-of-the-box technique to healing.

“To help with their rehabilitation and recovery of our injured soldiers in a non-conventional, non-clinical manner,” said McGranaghan.

The soldiers come face-to-face with one of the world’s most mystical creatures.  It’s an experience that is also therapeutic without sitting in a counselor’s office.

“It builds on more success and they become healed and transition either back to their duty or outside in the civilian world,” said McGranaghan.

Out of the water, our true American heroes emerge.

“It was great.  I need to bring my family here,” said one JBLM soldier.

“The anticipation was exciting for me and getting to do it with my soldiers at the same time and sharing that excitement was incredible,” said JBLM Staff Sergeant Jeremy Daniels.

While this week marked the first time JBLM soldiers used this therapy tool, it won’t be the last.  Operation Shark Dive will help up to eight veterans a month at specific times of the year, all of it paid for by grants. Puget Sound Energy Foundation, The Norman Archibald Charitable Foundation, Tulalip Tribes, Union Pacific Foundation and three Walmart stores have all provided funding for the program.