It's been 30 years since Jeff West began his military training, but he's still carrying out orders.
West, 52, a Safety Harbor resident and trained combat diver, has made it his mission to see a statue erected in the Washington Navy Yard honoring divers from all branches of the military.
The idea of a memorial began to crystalize in 2003 in an online forum created for military divers by the Homeland Security Policy Institute Group. The next year, West joined the chatter.
His mission began soon after when he was asked by older former divers to take on the project.
"I promised all these old divers I'd get it done," West said.
Some of the most important reconnaissance work done in the 20th Century was performed by divers, West said. One of those divers was Bruce Meyers, a pioneer in the field. Meyers, 86, who lives in Washington state, was a captain in the Marines when he began leading a team of divers that traveled around the world training armies to conduct underwater reconnaissance, he said.
"It was a fairly narrow field of knowledge," Meyers said. "A lot of people didn't know how to do it."
Earlier this year, Meyers penned a letter to U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat from Virginia, asking for support for the diver memorial. In June, Webb introduced a resolution in the Senate that expressed congressional support for the monument, which has already been approved by the Navy and is supported by other branches of the military.
The plan is to erect the monument in the Navy Yard on the Anacostia River where the original Hard Hat Divers School once stood. The bronze sculpture of a diver would stand 10 to 11 feet tall and would be mounted on a marble base.
West, who left the military in 1987 and pursued a career in LED technology, is the unofficial leader of the cause.
"Jeff has just done a marvelous job," Meyers said. "He gets the job done and I just sit back and marvel at what he's brought about."
It was West who recruited former Pinellas County Property Appraiser Jim Smith, a sculptor and ex-submarine sailor, to create a bronze model of the monument. HDR Architects signed on to create architectural plans for the memorial. Actor Tom Hanks contributed funds to survey the memorial site. The Homeland Security Policy Institute Group (hspig.org) set up to collect donations.
But the project is "desperately low on funds," according to West. Only $35,000 of the necessary $10 million, which will largely be used for construction and renovations in the Navy Yard to accommodate the monument, has been raised during the past eight years, he said.
West said he has been contacting large companies directly for financial support, but the cause's best hope is publicity from Congress.
Despite the slow going, West keeps moving forward in the line of duty, honoring those who came before him, he said.
"These guys are still alive," he said, "and they're my heroes, man."