FORT DRUM — Taking it easy isn't easy for Staff Sgt. Nathan H. Haddad. Four times deployed during his decade in the Army, he's spent his free time, too, pushing his body to the limits — hunting, rock-climbing and skydiving, among other physical activities.
"If it was sports or outdoors, I did it," he said Wednesday afternoon, standing near the swimming pool at Fort Drum's Pine Plains Fitness Center. Behind him, half a dozen of his comrades from the 3rd Battalion, 85th Infantry, Warrior in Transition Unit were being introduced to a new set of equipment: scuba gear.
Injured during special forces training in South Korea, Sgt. Haddad is still figuring out what he can and can't ask his body to do. But even walking through the woods is tough, painful.
"It's very, very frustrating," he said. "Before, I was outdoors and doing stuff all the time."
Physical therapy is helping him to heal, but pain is part of it, and it doesn't exactly replace the kind of adventurous athletics he loves.
What might come close is this, a scuba diving session open to injured soldiers in the Warrior in Transition Unit, brought to Fort Drum by Staff Sgt. Juan C. Carrasco, a squad leader in the unit's C Company.
"Being in the pool, I was able to swim for an hour with no pain at all," Sgt. Haddad said. "It's very low impact; you don't even feel the pack on your back."
And exercises without weight are just what he needs to help strengthen his joints, he said. It was Sgt. Haddad's first time trying out scuba diving, he said, but it won't be the last, if plans to offer the lessons monthly pan out.
"We are always looking for new ways to help soldiers out, to heal the mind, body and soul," Sgt. Carrasco told reporters gathered beside the swimming pool during the scuba session, which lasted from noon to 4 p.m.
In early summer, Sgt. Carrasco took a class to become a certified scuba diver at the downtown YMCA, through National Aquatic Service, Syracuse. It was his idea to bring scuba diving to Fort Drum.
The benefits of scuba diving for injured soldiers are both mental and physical, he said. In addition to weightlessness in the water that can allow greater mobility, there's also the focus on breathing and relaxation, and being away from the cell phone and other outside distractions.
"It's just them, the water, and moving without any constraints," he said.