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SUDS - Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba

Author: Thomas C. Weiss : Contact: Disabled World

Published: 2009-07-21 : (Rev. 2019-02-18)

Synopsis and Key Points:

The sport of scuba is one that veterans can enjoy throughout their lifetime to facilitate their rehabilitation process and promote mobility.

Main Digest

The Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba (SUDS) program at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) and Bethesda Naval Hospital is working to improve the lives of disabled soldiers who are returning from both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The program trains soldiers how to enjoy a sport that is both challenging and rewarding, while helping to facilitate their rehabilitation process and promote mobility. The sport of scuba is one that veterans can enjoy throughout their lifetime.

SUDS has a fundraising event referred to as, 'Operation Bottom Time,' that focuses on engagement of the diving community through an ongoing effort to support newly certified SUDS divers and their participation in the completion of the open water certification. SUDS itself is a 501 - 3 non-profit organization and a chapter of the Wounded Warrior/Disabled Sports Project.

The SUDS program is run by the President of the organization, John W. Thompson, as well as by Training Director Larry Hammonds. Combined they have nearly forty years of teaching experience. They also have dive instructor ratings with SDI, has, PADI, and NAUI.

The SUDS program offers scuba certification through SDI; the majority of the service members they work with have received severe injuries.

For service members who are unable to complete a skill to SDI open-water standards; SUDS offers the opportunity to earn certification with a Scubility certified scuba instructor. They teach adaptive scuba in the aquatic therapy pool on the third floor of Walter Reed, using SDI's online training system at: The online training allows divers to learn at their own pace, and is a program for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom service members. All SUDS dive instructors are American Red Cross volunteers and either former or active duty military.

John Thompson of SUDS is quoted as saying, "It's the most rewarding project I have ever been involved in. Many things are just easier to do in the water with these type of injuries. It's part rehabilitation, part confidence building, part adventure for these wounded warriors. I'm really inspired by the injured veterans at Walter Reed." Thompson calls water the great equalizer.

People who are interested in volunteering for the SUDS program must be aware that they are currently fully-staffed. Should a position become available, the interested volunteer must first become a volunteer through the American Red Cross at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. They also have to be an SDI Instructor and carry professional dive instructor liability insurance.

How do people with disabilities dive?

The soldiers learning how to dive may simply use their prosthetics in the water. Others use webbed gloves to help propel them. Soldiers who have lower limb injuries might use underwater scooters to assist them. Apparently, weight-integrated BCD's are a benefit to these divers because they can be used to shift the person's weight around, helping them to balance. Around one-hundred divers with disabilities have gone through the SUDS program at Walter Reed since 2007. Good quality scuba gear costs between $1,500 and $2,000.

One of the best parts of being involved with the SUDS programs is the trips!

On one of the trips this group has taken, they went to, 'Indra,' an artificial reef. They enjoyed more than one day of diving at Indra, where they were able to see the U352 - a German U-Boat! They also were able to dive down to the Spar, a Coast Guard buoy tend that was sunk a few years ago as a part of an artificial reef program. There were apparently a lot of sharks around this ship; four to eight-foot sand tiger sharks. These divers were actually looking forward to swimming with them. There was a great deal of other forms of marine life around the wrecks as well.

Another trip the SUDS crew has taken was to St. John; something they describe as an, 'Eco-paradise.'

Their first dive stop was Mingo Cay, where they refreshed their skills at ten feet, dropping to forty feet for a second dive.

On day two they dove at Congo Cay; it has a flat, sandy bottom at thirty feet, dropping off to sixty feet where there are plenty of turtles, stingrays, and tons of tropical fish.

For their third day they went to Little St. James, and then to Stevens Cay; both sites had plenty of tropicals for them to enjoy.

On day four they started at Grass Cay with a dive at forty feet, surrounded by mounds of brain coral.

On their last day the dove at Congo Cay with the sound of Humback whales in the distance.

Apparently the community at St. John spoiled them rotten.

Low Key Watersports gave them an amazing time and some generous donations.

The more I look at SUDS, the more I think about how much good they are doing for the returning veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts with disabilities.

Would you believe SUDS divers actually dive at Guantanamo Bay? They barbecue there too. It seems to be a fairly regular event.

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