Wounded warriors tackle diving
June 11, 2009
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (Army News Service, June 11, 2009) - "If I can do this, I can do anything!" is the motto for wounded warriors participating in disabled sports. Six wounded warriors reinforced this belief by receiving their open-water diving certification from Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, May 21-26.
The SUDS program, based out of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, and National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., is designed to help improve the lives of injured Soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
John Thompson, SUDS president and certified scuba instructor, has certified 140 injured servicemembers in three years with the program.
"It's the most rewarding project I have ever been involved in," he said. "Many things are just easier to do in the water with these types of severe injuries."
The program does more than assist with physical therapy, Thompson added.
"It's part rehabilitation, part confidence building (and) part adventure. Diving is an emotional and physical pain reliever."
Recently, SUDS combined efforts with Intrepid Sports, a similar program at Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio, Texas.
"The combined programs will help open more diving opportunities for injured Soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan," said Mark Heniser, Intrepid Sports president.
Both programs currently teach adaptive scuba to servicemembers disabled in Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom who participate in physical therapy or occupational therapy programs. The programs begin with pool training and end with open-water dive certification.
Capt. Ravi Venkataramani is a member of the Warriors Transition Battalion at BAMC and the Wounded Warrior Project, a program that assists severely injured servicemembers during the time between active duty and their transition to civilian life.
"Scuba keeps my mind off the pain and has helped me with my rehabilitation," Venkataramani said.
Guantanamo Bay offers a unique diving experience for those fortunate enough to dive here, according to Jessie Keenan, a diver here. The SUDS divers were able to dive off many of the naval station beaches that are generally off-limits to residents, offering a pristine view of underwater life unseen by many.
"I couldn't believe how beautiful the weather and water are," Venkataramani said. "It is very therapeutic."
Venkataramani said that diving helps him get back into an active lifestyle and thanks the many people who assisted in the event to make it run smoothly.
(Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Joshua L. Treadwell serves with JTF Guantanamo Public Affairs.)