Wounded warriors find joy in scuba diving
February 12, 2010
SCHWEINFURT, Germany - A group of wounded Soldiers from Charlie Company, Warrior Transition Battalion-Europe, based here took a trip to an indoor swimming pool in Werneck Feb. 7 where they hit the water for a scuba diving adventure.
"I have a love for scuba diving ... a passion for it, and I started thinking it would be a great activity for warriors in transition, but didn't know how to go about it. I then heard about a program being done at Walter Reed called 'SUDS', meaning Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba," said Staff Sgt. Stephen Gagne, of the WTB-E cadre and organizer of the event.
Gagne spoke with individuals with the stateside SUDS program to see how they went about organizing the event, how successful it was, and how he could make it happen here for his Soldiers.
"Once I saw that it was already established at major hospitals, I knew it was something that we could take off with," he said.
So after months of planning, equipped with a supportive medical community and granted funds, Gagne dove right in and made his idea a reality. A reality called Discovery Dive.
"We brought everyone into the pool and had instructors with two Soldiers at time. To use the words from Larry Hammonds of the SUDS program, 'Water is the great equalizer.' There are a lot of things that you can do in the water, that some wounded may not be able to do on land. You have more freedom and movement in the water," said Gagne.
The 15 Soldiers of C Co, WTB-E who participated all exited the pool already looking forward to their next Discovery Dive.
"It was empowering," said Staff Sgt. Michael Reed, a member of the cadre, who was once a wounded warrior in transition, having been shot in the hips during Operation Iraqi Freedom 06-08. "I can't run anymore. Even though I used to hate running, you miss it when it's gone. So this is one more thing where I can say, 'hey, I can do this.'"
Jake Altman, an injured Soldier from OIF 06-08, who lost his right arm to an Improvised Explosive Device, also expressed the joy he found in scuba diving, agreeing with Reed that it was an incredibly empowering experience.
"It was seriously the greatest thing that I've ever done. I now have a new hobby; it's great therapy," Altman said.
According to Gagne, this type of exercise is not only physically beneficial by promoting mobility and rehabilitation, but also psychologically therapeutic by allowing wounded men and women to realize the strengths and abilities they still possess.
"It's something positive to do with our time. And it really brings us together with a common thing. It's a rush; it was a lot of fun," Reed said.
Altman agreed that the day's activities brought wounded warriors together.
"We could look at each other and say, 'Hey what happened to you' and talk about it and say, 'Hey, (stuff) happens," he said laughing, and holding up his right arm prosthetic.
All jokes aside, both Soldiers became sincere in expressing their true appreciation for their newfound hobby.
"It just shows that regardless of my injuries, nothing can stop me from doing what I want do to," Altman said.