I got my DD-214 on Veteran’s Day weekend. For my nonmilitary friends, a DD-214 is the final document you receive before your last day in the military. It states your time in the service, significant awards, as well as the terms on which you’re leaving. For some, this single document can leave a dark spot, or a symbol of lessons learned the hard way. For others, it’s a shining badge of honor which will proudly sit at the beginning of any job or college application. For others, it’s a piece of paper that will be forgotten quicker than their facial hair grows in.
My DD-214 is cherished. I don’t view my DD-214 as a ticket out because I didn’t really want to go. Mine is a document that sums up an extremely significant fraction of my life. It’s a fraction which taught me how to be a part of something bigger than myself, and a fraction that gave my life more purpose and responsibility than I ever had before. I value what I’ve gained during my time in the service. I value more than simply the technical side, but what’s gained internally, owning mistakes, not fearing failure, and reaping the personal rewards earned by hard work and learning something new. I value observing a leadership structure and taking note of how people respond to negativity and positivity. I was fortunate enough to see all sides of the spectrum -- strong leaders who had a natural knack for gaining subordinates respect, and ones who struggled as leaders and seemed less confident or in less control of the situation. As a subordinate or coworker, navigating different leadership styles became a skill in itself. I learned from not only several of my own mistakes, but also by paying attention to the mistakes of others. Something I was told by a mentor and a friend is if it doesn’t feel right in your gut, it’s probably wrong…advice I wish I had used more frequently.
I will always view this time in my life with admiration. I walked into this as an adamant 27-year-old, determined to get through. I committed 100% of myself to doing so. I felt fear I had never experienced before, as well as took risks I never imagined I would have the opportunity to take. These little moments will remain with me and serve as constant reminders that nothing happens unless you execute. If you sit still, life will pass you right by. Jump in and execute your plan. If you can’t complete it, at least make forward progress. “Set yourself up for success” -- a phrase said so many times and rightfully so. I’m literally structuring the rest of my life on this principal. The real question lies in what type of success do you seek? What do you value most? Where is your passion? Are you the kind of person who strives to improve where they are lacking or the exact opposite? Do you identify your strengths and max out on those?
Beyond the existential and personal growth, I was also given the opportunity to travel to far corners of the earth with a crew of Deep-Sea Divers and call a junk boat home for 6 months. I experienced different customs and truly gained a respect for ways of life that we share with others on this planet. I was given the opportunity to appreciate other cultures, not as a tourist looking through a glass window, but as a peer. We fully immersed ourselves as collogues, students, teachers, and always as divers.
You don’t understand how much you love something until it’s taken away. The hardest part about this fraction of my life is that it’s too small. When my diving injury first occurred, I sat down with an extremely seasoned diving doctor, or DMO, who I trusted as a doctor and a mentor. He told me very frankly, when it comes to neurological symptoms don’t plan on getting a dive waiver. You’re setting yourself up for heartbreak. On the surface, I shook my head and smiled and said that I understood. Inside, it felt like my soul was leaving my body. My wheels started turning, but for someone who has permanent cranial nerve damage and a brain aneurysm, he was right. The writing was on the wall. It was at that very moment I had to shift from, “I’m going to be OK” to “Holy shit. This is the beginning of the end.” The tides changed that moment.
One of the most convenient things about being in any branch of service is that you can see your next step. First class petty officer to chief, corporal to sergeant, captain to major, and so on. I wasn’t done. I hadn’t had that command or position where it was my turn to stand out as a leader. I was looking so forward to my next planned step. When I realized that step would never come, it crushed me. For a while, I had to play a lot of mental gymnastics to swallow this pill; however, like dive school and prep, this has forced me once again to sink or swim. What has happened is out of my control. Now it’s about how I handle it. I can sit and be bitter and let life pass by or use this as a jumping off point and an opportunity to grow even further as a person. If you can’t run away from it, you need to turn around and face it head on. I had plans to carry out my navy career as long as possible, but that’s not going to happen, so the last thing I’m going to do is live in regret. Nope. Not me.
Can I still dive? I’ll never know. I don’t plan on it. It would be an unnecessary risk. almost like asking someone if they could drink six beers and drive around without getting caught or injured. So, it’s a pretty hard no. I will always love the water and swimming. My time in the Navy as a deep-sea diver will always hold a special place in my heart. With 15 Fathoms, I hope the true tone of who we are shines through with the products we offer. I look at this fraction of my life as one of the most meaningful and defining times. It’s been hard to say goodbye, but in the same breath, there’s a world of opportunity ahead of me. Now it’s time to put some of my developed skills to work and continue acquiring new ones as a veteran. On that note, I’m dam proud of my DD-214 and even more proud it says and will always say Navy Diver on it. Hoo-Ya Deep Sea!