Tallahassee SCUBA instructor Gabrielle Logo

Life Worth Leading is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and SCUBA is part of our nonprofit.

We are honored to present Buck's scholarship thanks to the generosity of an anomymous donor. The donor works for Dell who also provided matching scholarships for veterans in 2020 and 2021! Thank you! If you know of a worthy veteran who would like to become SCUBA certified, please complete the scholarship application.

Biography of Ensign Jerry "Buck" O'Real Pope II Ensign Jerry "Buck" O'Real Pope II was born 2 October 1967. A native of Tallahassee, Florida, he graduated from Leon High School in 1985. After a year of junior college, his competitive spirit, athletic ability, and undying devotion for his country led him to the United States Navy. The Navy assigned him as a fire controlman when he enlisted in 1987. However, intrigued with the history of the Navy SEALs, he actively sought assignment to Basic Underwater Demolition School/SEAL (BUD/S) Training. Later that year, Petty Officer Pope received his wish with orders to Coronado, California to attend BUD/S. Unfortunately, only weeks before graduation he suffered from a near fatal training injury. Following recovery and rehabilitation, Petty Officer Pope returned to BUD/S to complete training and graduate with Class 165. After BUD/S he was assigned to an east coast SEAL Team for duty but not long after his arrival he felt his interest lay in medicine and cross-rated to hospital corpsman. As a Navy SEAL qualified hospital corpsman, he deployed multiple times throughout the U.S. Southern command before being transferred to Fort Bragg, North Carolina to serve as an instructor at the renowned Joint Special Operations Medical Training Center. Despite an intense teaching schedule, Petty Officer Pope attended college during his off-hours and within a few years earned a Bachelor of Health Science degree with honors from Campbell University and acceptance to the Department of Defense Intra-Service Physician Assistant (PA) Program. There Officer Candidate Pope continued to maintain his high academic standards graduating February 2001 in the upper percentile of his class with a degree from the University of Nebraska and a commission as a medical service corps officer. Following PA graduation, Ensign Pope received orders to the Naval Medical Clinic in Quantico, Virginia where he served until August 2002 when he accepted a volunteer assignment to a specified Individual Augmentee program supporting special operations. Ensign Pope was killed in a motor vehicle crash while temporarily assigned to the American Embassy Yemen for ongoing counterterrorism operations on 16 October 2002. He was interned at Arlington National Cemetery on 21 November 2002.

Buck's Scholarship 2021 Recipient Ryan B. McKibben
Ryan McKibben picture in combat

Congratulations to Ryan B. McKibben for being the 5th recipient of Buck's Scholarship! Ryan B. McKibben was born in Tallahassee, FL on September 21, 1982. He graduated from Lincoln High School in 2002. As a young man, Ryan always knew he wanted to continue the tradition of military service many members of his family have continued for generations. In his junior year of high school, he joined the Florida Army National Guard as a multichannel transmission systems operator (31R) with the 653rd Signal Company in Crestview, FL. After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001, Ryan recognized that the U.S. military was facing a new fight and decided to switch from the National Guard to Active Duty. So just one week after graduating high school he was sworn into Active Duty as a radar repairer (94M) and reported to Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, AL.

During his time on active duty, Ryan served as for two years at Fort Sill, OK before changing duty stations to Fort Benning, GA with the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. He was assigned to the 1/10 Field Artillery where he was the senior radar technician for the brigade. While assigned at Fort Benning, his unit was deployed to Iraq in 2005 and again in 2007/2008 where the unit sustained many losses, some of which were Ryan's colleagues and friends. Ryan survived several close calls while in Iraq but after losing his close friend, Jeff Hartley, on April 8th, 2008, his life changed forever.

Ryan decided he had given enough of himself to his country and with a baby boy on the way, decided that he would leave active duty and pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a Seminole at the Florida State University. He continued to serve in the Army Reserves as a career counselor (79S) until 2010 before going on to graduate from TCC in 2014 and then FSU with a bachelor of science in International Affairs in 2017. During his time in college, Ryan worked at the FSU College of Law as a systems administrator. There he met the love of his life, Amanda, who was a student, and they now have four children. He now works as a policy analyst for the Florida Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services which he loves.

Ryan McKibben with family on front porch

Ryan is glad to be back home in Tallahassee but adjusting back to civilian life has not been easy. Suffering from PTSD, chronic pain, and constant reminders of his trauma, Ryan was depressed and had trouble getting out of bed some days. With love, support, and encouragement from his wife and a strong support network, Ryan has been able to outgrow and deal with his PTSD by challenging himself. Ryan wanted to learn to SCUBA dive because he realized several years ago that sitting around feeling sorry for himself was not the way to honor the memory of his good friend and the others he lost along the wayand the best way he knows how to honor them is to take every opportunity to get everything out of life that he can.

Ryan's military decorations include: Combat Action Badge, Army Commendation Medal (5thaward), Army Achievement Medal (2ndaward), Army Good Conduct Medal (3rdaward), Armed Forces Service Medal (2ndaward), Iraq Campaign Medal (2ndaward), Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal (2ndaward), Presidential Unit Citation, Global War on Terrorism Service medal, Noncommissioned Officer Training Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon (numeral 2), Expert Marksman Badge (Rifle and M203), and Expert Driver Badge.

Ryan McKibben picture in combat


SCUBA Diving is healing and powerful!

Congratulations to Ryan B. McKibben, a decorated U.S. Army veteran, for being the 5th recipient of Buck's Scholarship!

"Buck," as his friends and teammates knew him, was not only the consummate professional within the special operations and medical communities but someone who possessed an uncanny ability to smile during times that would frustrate even the most patient of individuals. Often he would discuss his past misfortunes with a laugh and calming demeanor that would make others wonder how he was able to maintain his personal stamina and sense of humor during some of the most difficult of times. A selfless man, he often volunteered for the worst assignments and gave more than expected. He was a close friend to many, and everyone who knew him misses him. Ensign Pope's decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Navy Achievement Medal, the Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation, the Navy Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, expert Navy Rifleman and Pistol Medals, the Special Warfare (SEAL) breast insignia, and the Naval Parachutist breast insignia. Buck is survived by his wife Andrea his children Drew, Leah, Jack, and his mother and stepfather Violet and Otto M. Stroud, his brother Jeremy Shea Pope who all reside in Virginia Beach, Virginia, his father and stepmother Jerry O. and Susan Pope of Tallahassee, Florida, as well as eight step brothers, two in Virginia Beach and six in Tallahassee.