Story and photo by
2nd Lt. Charles Payne
561st Engineer Company, 84th Engineer Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command
KONA, Hawaii — Select members of 561st Engineer Company, 84th Eng. Battalion, 130th Eng. Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, took a break from their construction project at Pohakuloa Training Area to give back to the community and participate in Deep and Beyond’s Snorkel Day at Kahaluu Beach in Kona, Hawaii, recently.
The event occurs every month and provides individuals with special needs and disabilities in the Kona community the opportunity to participate in water-immersion activities in a safe, controlled environment.
“We’re really excited to see our local community join hands in support of our event,” said Stephanie Velasco, Deep and Beyond staff member. “I’m glad to see our service members volunteer and get involved during their training on Hawaii and hope we have more involvement in the future.”
More than 50 volunteers and potential swimmers attended this month’s event, which began with a quick safety briefing and the pairing of new volunteers with experienced volunteers. When the set-up was complete, the pavilion was flooded with eager individuals ready to suit-up and hop in the water.
The volunteers walked the attendees through five stations, which cycled them in and out of the water. Soldiers of the 561st Eng. Co. assisted senior volunteers in escorting attendees around the local reef to view a variety of sea life. The day ended with a big lunch and casual conversation among new friends.
The best and most satisfying aspect of the event was the interaction with the individuals with special needs, said Spc. Peter Partridge, a volunteer and construction equipment mechanic, 561st Eng. Co. Without any reservations, the individual’s showed a level of trust, love and confidence within 30 seconds of meeting you that would take most people years of friendship to establish, Partridge explained.
While some individuals possessed limiting disabilities and needed assistance getting in and out of the water, many simply wanted a helping hand and someone to cling to as they experienced snorkeling for the first time.
While the engineers assumed the responsibilies of instructors and mentors, the atmosphere created by the volunteers and staff was one of relaxation and enjoyment. Senior volunteers were especially helpful, giving little tips to Soldiers and new snorkelers alike, ensuring everyone felt comfortable in the water.
In the end, all parties involved were bonded by the unique environment and newly christened snorkelers.
“I feel very fortunate to have been a part of this day and teach these amazing kids that don’t have a care in the world,” said Sgt. Mathew Rutherford, training noncommissioned officer, 561st Eng. Co.
“I would love to participate in more events like this in the future and hope more people take advantage of this special opportunity,” Rutherford added.