Veteran Paul Ungi has known some lows – but now diving to the depths is keeping him on the up.
Paul, who served in the Army with the 3rd Battalion Royal Green Jackets, works as a candidate support manager with Capita at the Army National Recruitment Centre near Pewsey in Wiltshire. He recently completed a reactivate course with Basingstoke-based Ocean Turtle Diving (OTD).
After leaving the military in 1998 Paul faced challenges with his mental health, but today he firmly believes that being in the water and dive therapy have made a huge difference to his ability to stay positive and manage his mental wellbeing.
He said: ‘The water helps with my mental health Issues. I know that when I am in the water, whether under it, on top of it or by it, the water just eases the stress of life and makes me feel positive.’
Diving isn’t a new passion for him, as he has fond memories as a child of his dad (who also served) letting him lie in the bath with a cylinder and regulator so he could experience breathing under water. Once in the Army, he made the most of the training on offer and took up sub-aqua.
‘Dad would take me with him to Lulworth Cove, Durdledor, Swanage and other locations to watch the club dive and we would often eat the crab and shellfish that the club would bring ashore,’ he said. ‘From that point that’s what I wanted to do. The Army gave me that in abundance.’
OTD is a premier dive school, one of only three Professional Association of Diving Instructors five-star career development centres in the UK. It has shown its commitment to the Defence community through signing the Armed Forces Covenant and offers support and services in a number of key ways. It’s also a Career Transition Partnership (CTP) preferred supplier.
The school can work with service leavers who wish to pursue a recreational or professional diving qualification. In addition, owner Kerrie Eade hopes to break down barriers and promote the wellbeing benefits of diving.
She said: ‘We see the opportunity to work with veterans and service leavers as an absolute privilege. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to see many learn to dive and go on to great things and become instructors themselves.
‘Being underwater is a well-known healer. The benefits of being in nature and slow, deep breathing are well documented and those with physical disabilities are able to be free and independent.’
Each covenant signatory is different, but their pledges reflect the individual ways an organisation is able to support and uphold the principles of the covenant. OTD has pledged to support the whole Armed Forces community and as a Forces-friendly organisation it offers a discount on courses and works with local Combined Cadet Force schools to arrange dive trips and training.
CTP accreditation comes at no extra cost and provides OTD with access to a pool of hard-working and motivated students. Their desire to learn and improve guarantees great results and provides an opportunity for OTD to raise its profile and reputation as a training provider that has achieved accreditation by the Ministry of Defence.
Importantly, for divers who may feel there are barriers (physical or mental) to pursing scuba diving as a recreation, Kerrie is an instructor trainer in adaptive techniques. This means she and her team can offer bespoke training programmes that adapt to meet a diver’s individual needs. This includes working with amputees and divers who, like Paul, suffer from mental health issues.
Paul has no doubts about what OTD has done for him: ‘For me to take that step to introduce myself to Ocean Turtle took a giant leap of faith and confidence, but without doing so I would not have been able to complete my reactivate course and regain my confidence.
‘Although I do still suffer with ‘issues’, it’s been just the tonic so far to get me back where I want to be.’
To find out more about being a Forces-friendly organisation visit https://www.armedforcescovenant.gov.uk/
*Published in association with Defence Relationship Management