Nightly News   |  August 09, 2013

Injured vets find new purpose off battlefield

U.S. military veterans in a support group called the Combat Wounded Veteran’s Challenge are taking part in outdoor challenges, such as coral transplants to save dying reefs. NBC’s Mark Potter reports.

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>>> finally tonight, our making a difference report is about a group of veterans who sacrificed so much, but found an unlikely new mission, in which they help the environment and regain their spirit at the same time. nbc's mark potter tonight on a program that helps them improve their lives, by improving the world.

>> in the water off the florida keys , a flotilla arrives to help save the dying reefs. and joining that mission -- are some of america's finest. who already have given so much. they're all u.s. military veterans who lost limb or suffered traumatic brain injuries. and who now are part of a support group called, the combat wounded veterans challenge. their biggest challenge has been to come back whole, after suffering the physical and emotional wounds of war. retired navy master chief james wilin, who lost a leg says the camaraderie of fellow vets heals his soul.

>> it allows me the chance to be the master chief again. and that loss of identity? it's back. it's everything.

>> on this day, the vets have joined scientists at a marine laboratory. when the coral grows big enough, it's replanted on nearby reefs which have been decimated by disease, warming waters and other stress.

>> the great thing about this is all military are mission-oriented. they want a purpose. so in transplanting coral, that, they have a purpose.

>> another reason for this trip is to do research on how wounded vets and others can better use these prosthetic devices in water. for which there is very little study so far. helping with that is billy costello of u.s. army special forces . who lost a leg in afghanistan. just a year later, he climbed mount kilimanjaro which really impressed the scuba nauns, a group of teens who drove with him at the coral farm.

>> i wanted to say guys, look what he can do? he can climb mountains.

>> wounded vets healing themselves by helping and inspiring others. mark potter , nbc news, florida keys .