A father and daughter pair of University of Tennessee, Knoxville, graduates have teamed up to help give back to members of the United States military through their program Diving with Heroes.
Joe Brickey, a 1985 electrical engineering grad, and Jill Hottel, who got her bachelor’s in geography in 2004 and her master’s in 2010, started the program as a way to help wounded veterans regain their lost sense of mobility via diving.
On their most recent trip to the Cayman Islands, several veterans talked about how the experience had given them an opportunity to do things in a way now limited on the surface.
“I may have limits on what I can do above water, but while diving there is nothing I cannot do,” said Marine Staff Sgt. Jade Sharrocks, who was wounded by a suicide bomber in Haditha, Iraq.
According to the group, the ultimate goal isn’t just to give the wounded vets a momentary reprieve, but to encourage them to carry that feeling and the drive that got them there into their everyday lives.
Brickey serves as chairman and CEO of Integrity Applications Incorporated, a company headquartered in Virginia that serves the software and engineering needs of companies, typically in civil engineering, defense, or the intelligence community.
The company, which Brickey co-founded in 1999, employs 600 people across the nation and has a foundation through which it has a long history of supporting veteran-related activities and groups.
A 2013 meeting led to foundation members wanting to expand the reach further, which lead to the concept of Diving with Heroes.
“Diving with Heroes is a more targeted approach that we came up with to recognize the contributions of military personnel and military veterans who have sacrificed for our freedom,” said Brickey. “It emerged from a desire to serve these heroes and build a community where rehabilitation could take place.”
For her part, Hottel says her inspiration for the group came from her aunt Janice Brickey, also a UT grad, as well as an ongoing experience she had while she was at UT herself.
Hottel explained that her aunt has been confined to a wheelchair due to paraplegia for as long as she’s known her, but that she skis and took her hand-pedaled bicycle forty miles that first time she rode it.
She also said that seeing Ray Mowery, who has long operated Ray’s Place in UT’s South College building in spite of his impaired vision, successfully run a business and make relationships showed her that many things can be overcome.
“A physical, mental or social disability doesn’t have to be a setback,” said Hottel. “Their examples encouraged me to reach out to disabled veterans and help them explore the world beneath the waves.”