Wounded veterans find new purpose in saving the Florida coral reef

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The Today Show

Project Date:

JUL 25, 2015

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Wounded veterans find new purpose in saving the Florida coral reef

In three years, Army veteran Bobby Dove had more than 30 surgeries that's left him with one arm and one leg. Now, he's found a new purpose in a special underwater mission where many wounded vets like himself save the environment.

Dove, a 28-year-old former Green Beret, was injured while driving a dirt bike in Afghanistan, when a pressure plate IED went off and instantly took off nearly his entire leg, most of his hand and crushed his pelvis. In the years since, he's had dozens of surgeries, and tried to heal both physically and emotionally.

“There’s been a lot of times that I’ve even questioned if maybe it had been easier if I had just died that day and maybe retained more dignity,” Dove told NBC's Kerry Sanders for TODAY.

One of the ways Dove, and many other wounded veterans, has found help in healing through a new operation in the Florida Keys — rebuilding the area's coral reef.

Using Staghorn coral, grown by biologists at Mote Marine Laboratory, the vets plant it on the ocean floor, 35-feet underwater. In the last two years, wounded veterans have helped plant more than 1,000 corals, which are important to the ocean's ecosystem because they're a protective haven for fish.

Program Manager and Scientist Erich Bartels of the laboratory said this mission helps lift the spirits of wounded veterans.

“I think this is another mission that they can really get into get into, get excited about and feel good about giving back to the environment now,” Bartels said.

For Dove, rebuilding the underwater reefs has been welcome therapy.

“When someone calls you on the phone and says, ‘Hey we have this important thing we want you to come and join in,’ it’s a real morale booster for us," Dove said.

Dove, who is now married and the father of a 9-month-old named Wyatt, said that the work he's doing in the coral reef helps him focus on more than his injuries.

“You get so into it. You have this feeling of important and a feeling of there’s something else that you’re doing that’s more important than just me trying to swim with one leg and one hand,” Dove said. "When I get to do things like this and be around great people like this, it all goes away."

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