War vets dive into fear

VETERAN DIVERS: Tony Hopeley-Smith, Chrissy Hewitt, Paul Taylor, Scott Christensen and Scott Miles.
VETERAN DIVERS: Tony Hopeley-Smith, Chrissy Hewitt, Paul Taylor, Scott Christensen and Scott Miles.

SOLDIERS battling the traumas of war have faced their fears by diving with sharks off the Coffs Coast this week.

Soldier On, a veteran's organisation that helps wounded veterans cope with post-traumatic stress disorder, regularly runs challenging adventure to test ex-serviceman and woman and help them make an emotional connection with their communities.

On the advice of local Gulf War veteran Scott Miles, Soldier On brought five veterans who had served in the Australian Army and navy to Coffs Harbour to get their Open Water Diving licences.

"It's all about us facing our fears," Scott said.

"When you return from war with PTSD, there are two ways you can deal with it - you can sit in a pub all day or at home drinking in a pity party, or you can see a psychologist, deal with the issue and take part in these activities, which are offered to returned veterans that are not provided by the government."

The Soldier On diving class take to the depths of South Solitary Island.
The Soldier On diving class take to the depths of South Solitary Island.

Serving Afghanistan and Iraq veteran Blake Simmons, who has acted as a mentor for the group, said it was easier for soldiers to deal with the impacts of PTSD when they were surrounded by those who shared the condition.

"I'm fortunate not to have suffered PTSD following my campaigns, yet I've seen how these experiences build resilience and allow the soldiers to overcome their anxieties," Blake said.

"They may have only been grey nurse sharks but the very act of these guys deep sea diving has taken them outside of their comfort zones."

Topics:  coffs coast, coffs harbour, diving

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