The WAVES Project saw an influx of veteran applications from all over the United States in 2019. To meet the increased need in services, WAVES Project reached out to dive clubs and shops to start a WAVES Project program in their area and help serve more veterans outside of the southwest Riverside County. In 2019, two official Forward Operating Bases (FOB) were established and two more are being formed in 2020! One of the first FOB’s is located in Palmdale with the Antelope Valley Desert Divers (AVDD) Club. The AVDD is actually the oldest diving club in California and they will be celebrating their 50th Anniversary this year.
Led by retired Navy Veteran and AVDD Club President, Jeff Carlon, the Palmdale FOB has certified and supported five veterans. They recently completed their second class with a dive off the shores of Catalina.
SCUBA Diving is a buddy sport. Having a buddy not only keeps you safe while diving, it helps keep you active in the sport. Jeff said that he was certified by the Navy and served as a Rescue Swimmer, but after retirement he fell away from diving until his son fell in love with the sport and got Jeff back involved. Jeff has been a huge asset to the WAVES Project as his passion for helping the veterans is contagious. “As a vet myself, I feel fortunate to share something I love with my brothers and sisters who have served,” says Jeff. Seeing the veterans grow in their confidence throughout the training really keeps Jeff energized about growing the AVDD WAVES Project program.
Jeff mentioned that the AVDD have always supported local causes including the YMCA, Boys & Girls Club, and Boy Scouts. The WAVES Project was such a great fit for the club and it has now become the only “official” group they support. The AVDD conduct outreach promoting the program to veterans and partners with other local veteran groups including Vets 4 Veterans.
In January, the AVDD partnered with Bravery Brewing to raise funds that will help offer the program to more veterans in their area. The “WAVES, Brave & Brew” event featured a beer made by the AVDD and WAVES Project veterans called “Under the WAVES IPA” with all proceeds of the beer supporting the Palmdale FOB, and they sold out that night! Held at the Bravery Brewing in Lancaster, the event was honored with visits from special guests including Assemblyman Tom Lacky and State Senator Scott Wilk in addition to Congressional candidate Steve Knight.
The AVDD membership is very active and involved in working with the veterans, which is why the Palmdale FOB sees such successful outcomes. Each member volunteers whether it’s helping coordinate a fundraiser or working directly with the veterans through training. Jeff mentions that the most rewarding part of the WAVES Project program is the bond that develops between the trainers and the veteran students. “You spend so much time together and they put so much trust in you as the instructor, that a bond is developed and it becomes very rewarding to see them advance in the skills they learn and the confidence they get,” states Jeff.
In the end, just certifying a veteran in SCUBA Diving is not the program goal. Our mission is to help the veterans continue experiencing the healing benefits the ocean and diving have to offer. To keep the Palmdale FOB veterans involved, AVDD continues to connect with their veteran divers and include them on club activities and dive opportunities.
The AVDD are a great group and WAVES Project is honored to be working with them to save more veterans. To learn more about the Palmdale FOB or other affiliates visit our website at website at https://www.wavesproject.org/affiliates/.