SUDS is Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba; a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization. SUDS exists to help improve the lives of wounded service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Currently SUDS works with wounded veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC), in Washington DC, and teaches them how to scuba dive. Learning how to scuba dive helps the entire rehabilitation process by offering a sport in which participants with limited mobility, or even amputations, can fully participate. This allows them to heal both mentally and physically by allowing them freedom of mobility while in the water. Several SUDS “graduates” who were once athletes are now bound to wheelchairs. Now they have the knowledge that they can still participate in sports, and will be able to for years to come.
Since its inception in 2007, SUDS helped more than 20 veterans of the Iraq and/or Afghanistan conflict attain their open water certification through their program named “Operation Bottom Time” (OBT). In February 2008, the first group of SUDS soldiers completed their SDI open water certification at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Later in 2008 there were 2 other OBT events in Tavernier, FL and Puerto Rico. On December 3, a second trip to Cuba is scheduled.
In November 2008, two of the SUDS graduates, Lance Corporal Tim Lang and Marine Corporal Josh Bleill came to Pompano Beach, Florida to complete their Advanced Open Water. Josh originally received his SDI OW card at the first OBT, and Tim received his in Tavernier. Working together on their advanced open water was a poignant moment for them, as they were both injured together in Fallujah, Iraq on October 15, 2006.
“The blast was so loud I couldn’t even hear it,” said Lang, “I could only feel it. It made my stomach sink. I thought I was dying the whole time. Then I snapped to and realized where I was. I crawled back to the Humvee. I heard my buddy Josh Hines yelling, ‘Get me out of here, Lang. Get me out.’ I tried to put my shoulder into the turret but I could not budge it.” Two men died from the roadside bomb that their Humvee struck. After many operations trying to save Tim’s leg, the doctors finally decided to remove one of them. Cpl Bleill lost both of his legs above the knee because of the injuries suffered. Both men ultimately found the SUDS program while stationed at WRAMC, and SUDS helped give them an unforgettable experience. The impact of Scuba diving was so great, they felt compelled to progress further into their Scuba experience.
While SUDS has helped more than 20 divers become certified, there are more than 100 who have completed their confined water portion of the training at WRAMC, and many others who are interested in getting involved with SUDS as part of their rehabilitation. Without the dedication of the instructors involved, support from SDI, and of course support from the Scuba diving community itself, SUDS would not be able to provide these services to the men and women who participate. SUDS is funded through private donations, and the program provides the training sessions and subsequent Operation Bottom Time trips absolutely free to the participants. For more information about SUDS, visit their website at https://www.sudsdiving.org