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July 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 29, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Help a Wounded Warrior Learn How to Dive

from the July, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

This organization is for an exclusive group of divers, and while you probably can't dive with them, you may be more than happy to help them go on their future dive trips.

National Guard veteran John W. Thompson started Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba (SUDS), soon after he walked into Walter Reed Army Medical Center Hospital to have lunch with his wife. "As soon as you walk in, you see some pretty heavy stuff . . . and it hit me hard. I knew I had to get involved but I really didn't know what attributes I had to offer these guys."

He then went to the American Red Cross office at Walter Reed and asked to be a volunteer. He was placed in the aquatics department and started helping wounded soldiers. It was there Thompson realized he could help even even more with their rehabilitation. "Here's a pool and I'm a certified diving instructor, so why don't we use scuba diving to help with the rehab process?" In 2007, he started SUDS, which focuses on improving the lives of injured servicemen and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Every winter, Thompson brings one veteran each week to dive with him in Rincon, Puerto Rico. Taino Divers takes them to dive at the small island of Desecheo. "They have gone through multiple surgeries, and to see the joy and excitement when we come up from the dive is amazing," Thompson says. "They are away from all that stuff at home, and here they can relax and have an enjoyable time," he added.

One of his recent guests was former U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Juan Andres Arredondo. He suffered multiple injuries to his legs and right arm, and his left hand was severed when his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2005. For Arredondo, 34, the scuba training has been a rewarding experience. "It is very important to have recreational therapy and sports like diving because it gets you in the mindset that you can still operate and do what you want to do," he said. Diving at Desecheo was also his first time on a boat. "And on my first dive, I got to see a whale shark."

SUDS runs about 12 dive trips for veterans a year to places like Hawaii, Curacao, Cuba's Guantanamo Bay and the Gulf Coast. It trains divers with disabilities through TDI/SDI's Scubility program (any instructor who wants to volunteer services must be certified through TDI/SDI and carry professional liability insurance). You can help out SUDS, a nonprofit organization, and its students by donating money, which will go to cover training and students' certification trips, including airfare, lodging, meals and diving; there is no cost to the service members. For more information, go to www.sudsdiving.org

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