Competitive Underwater Physical Exercise

A Fountain of Youth has Emerged from the Rigors of Marine Corps Special Operations Underwater Combat Training

By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW & Colonel Neil Scheuhle (USMC Retired); Edited by Erin O'. Gaita, BA

It started out decades ago as a form of underwater combat training used by Marine Recon and Navy SEALs. It is rigorous, intense, and as hard or as "easy" as you want to make it. It has also garnered the interest of Operation Vet Fit and faculty at the Citadel Military College in South Carolina for its obvious physical and potential mental health benefits.

"Underwater Rugby", was introduced to the Citadel by Marine Colonel, Neil Schuehle. The former Commanding Officer of the Marine Special Operations School (now called the Raider Training Center), and the former NROTC CO at the Citadel, before retiring in 2016. Schuehle, a Force Recon Marine who served in too many combat operations to list, has earned a reputation for his legendary leadership style and has garnered the loyalty of his troops and adoration of his peers. He stands as a shining example of Post Traumatic Growth and has intrinsically formulated solutions to the veteran suicide crisis far ahead of his time.

At a time when the Armed Forces were grappling with the suicide crisis, Schuehle and his leadership team at the Marine Special Operations School developed a unique and effective way to identify and resolve potential behavioral risk problems associated with PTSD. They assigned a color code to their troops displaying signs and symptoms of trouble - (i.e., domestic violence, reckless behavior, excessive drinking, withdrawing, etc.); red, yellow, or green. This system, thanks to the collaboration by Schuehle, has now become an essential part of the Operation Vet Fit Case Intake System.

"I was invited to give it a try. I did. Now I'm hooked."

A twelve-foot deep pool, a 12" torpedo or weighted ball, two goals, two teams. That's it. I was welcomed warmly by the faculty, cadets, and veterans. The goal of the game: score by placing the torpedo or ball into the goal.

Observe a few games in progress below

I was both exhausted and equally impressed by the performance of the participants in the pool. Out of curiosity, I also wore my exercise tracking device for the duration. When I uploaded and observed the workout profile (shown below) I was blown away. It is much more than just a swim, a workout in the gym, a run, or fitness class. It is what we refer to as a Camaraderie Based Exercise Event (CBEE).

Interestingly, Schuehle's introduction of Underwater Rugby to the Citadel has now caught the eyes of researchers, professors, and faculty for its potential use as an effective evidence based modality for mental health, the fight to stop veteran suicide, and improving National Security.

Currently, we are awaiting Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval to investigate if this type of CBEE can reduce depression, anxiety, pain and PTSD symptoms. Additionally, research on its impact on overall health and physical fitness appear ripe for further inspection.

The pleasant irony of a retired and decorated Special Forces Marine Corps Colonel (also prior enlisted), utilizing a training tool for Marine Special Operations that may also become a possible intervention in the fight to stop veteran suicide is nothing short of, extraordinary.

Above Image: Former MARSOC Commanding Officer Col. Neil Scheuhle delivering a messege to his troops

Author Disclosure - Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW, a United States Marine turned veterans' advocate. He is the Founder of Operation Vet Fit, a 501C(3), combat veteran advocacy agency recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs Mental Health Services for his ground breaking research on veteran suicide causes and solutions. He is a South Carolina Licensed Social Worker specializing in Mental Health and Military Families; a volunteer research assistant at the Citadel, inducted into the Phi Alpha Honor Society while a graduate student at the University of Southern California, also a Presidential Management Fellowship Finalist; a participant in Military Clinical Skills Training and research conducted through the Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families. Dan earned his BA in Psychology from combined studies at the University of Connecticut and Western Connecticut State University. He earned his first Masters degree in Organizational Leadership at Gonzaga University with a concentration in Servant Leadership. He later completed his second Masters degree in Clinical Social Work with a concentration on Mental Health and Military Families from combined studies at Fordham University and the University of Southern California.  Contact: dan@operationvetfit.org

Author Disclosure - Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW, a United States Marine turned veterans' advocate. He is the Founder of Operation Vet Fit, a 501C(3), combat veteran advocacy agency recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs Mental Health Services for his ground breaking research on veteran suicide causes and solutions. He is a South Carolina Licensed Social Worker specializing in Mental Health and Military Families; a volunteer research assistant at the Citadel, inducted into the Phi Alpha Honor Society while a graduate student at the University of Southern California, also a Presidential Management Fellowship Finalist; a participant in Military Clinical Skills Training and research conducted through the Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families. Dan earned his BA in Psychology from combined studies at the University of Connecticut and Western Connecticut State University. He earned his first Masters degree in Organizational Leadership at Gonzaga University with a concentration in Servant Leadership. He later completed his second Masters degree in Clinical Social Work with a concentration on Mental Health and Military Families from combined studies at Fordham University and the University of Southern California.

Contact: dan@operationvetfit.org