Diving into healing waters
March 3, 2009
For two years the volunteers of Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba have taught more than 100 injured veterans how to dive. The program is designed to assist returning veterans injured in Afghanistan and Iraq with their rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
The SUDS program uses the pools at Walter Reed for the initial training and then completes the certification dives in open water.
Sergeant Shane Heath is a member of the Wounded Warrior Project, a program that caters to severely injured servicemembers during the time between active duty and their transition to civilian life. He lost part of his left arm and his left leg to an improvised explosive device in Iraq.
Heath made his second trip to U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay with the SUDS SCUBA diving program in December, and described the experience as rewarding.
"I love coming to Guantanamo and diving," Heath said. "I really enjoy diving with all of the guys and folks down here, everyone was awesome."
Heath earned his open water and advanced open water SCUBA qualification during his first trip to Guantanamo in late February 2008.
"I got into diving to explore," Heath said. "I wanted to see thing other people will never see."
Heath continued his SCUBA certification with certifications in mixed-gas Nitrox diving and has recently finished the rescue diver course.
"I had some challenges going through some of the dive programs, like weight compensating for the injuries on my left side," Heath said. "I enjoyed overcoming challenges and achieving the same standards as everyone else for my rescue diver program."
John Thompson, SUDS president and certified SCUBA instructor, has been with the program since its inception. He works with the students on their initial pool training at Walter Reed Medical Center prior to their open-water dives.
"It's the most rewarding project I have ever been involved in," Thompson said. "Many things are just easier to do in the water with these types of injuries."
Thompson said the program does much more than assist with physical therapy alone.
"It's part rehabilitation, part confidence building, part adventure for these wounded warriors," he explains. "I'm really inspired by the Soldiers at Walter Reed."
Heath has plans to do a lot of diving in the future, with an ultimate goal of becoming a certified SCUBA diving instructor.
"I'm working on my Master Scuba Diving certification and getting all of the fun dives in that I can."