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SUDS Diving: It’s NOT What You Think, It’s BETTER!

( – When you think of the word “suds”, different images may come to mind.  A frothy beer on a hot summer day, or perhaps a baby playing in a bubble bath.  When I think of “suds”, I think about brave men and women serving in the wars in the Middle East. (photos courtesy of Howard Ehrenberg)

You are probably wondering how I’m making that connection.  SUDS is the acronym for Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba, a diving rehab program taking place at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Navy Hospital.  SUDS began in 2007 when John Thompson realized that the injured soldiers coming back from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom perhaps could benefit from the environment Scuba provides.

After volunteering with the Red Cross at the hospital, and because of his long history in diving, Thompson was placed to assist in the therapy pool program.  As he interacted with the wounded soldiers, he saw the potential that scuba would offer, considering it’s neutral environment. Thompson calls “water the great equalizer.  Many things are easier to do in the water with these types of injuries. It’s part rehabilitation, part confidence building, part adventure for these wounded warriors.”

Along with the Chief of Physical Therapy, also a scuba diver, the SUDS program was born. Now, SUDS is part of the therapeutic activities available at WRAMC and BNH, as a chapter of the Wounded Warriors and Disabled Sports Program.  The results are obvious. “The biggest thing I hear from the vets is that they have a freedom underwater that they just don’t have on land,” says Thompson. “A lot of the pain and pressure from the prosthetics just goes away.”

To date, over 200 soldiers have been trained by SUDS, which is a self-funded, charitable organization that receives no government support.  While the wounded soldiers are rehabilitating at WRAMC, they are given the opportunity to take the scuba classes.  The training begins with the Scuba Diving International (SDI) online training system, then continues with four classes in the pool working on skills, which is instructed by Retired Navy Captain Danny Facciola along with ARC volunteers and former or active military personnel.  Once the confined water is completed, the soldiers have six months to complete the required four open water dives to become certified.  SUDS has a number of trips throughout the year, which provides the opportunity to complete their certifications.

SUDS plans their trips to warm destinations, which have included The Florida Keys, North Carolina, The Virgin Islands, The Caribbean, Bonaire, Fort Lauderdale, Puerto Rico, and Guantanamo Bay.  In addition to training trips, the organization also plans “alumni” trips for the divers.  These trips are designed for the certified divers to get involved with others who have had similar experiences, and Thompson “hopes that SUDS members will begin to organize their own trips with fellow soldiers they meet in the program”.

SUDS is always working on training and planning dive trips, the next scheduled is at the end of July and they are off to Ft Lauderdale.  Following that trip, Curacao, and then in October, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The average cost to train and take the dive trips is approximately $1,800.  SUDS has many supporters who believe that the program is valuable for our wounded soldiers and receive private donations, dive shops have fund raising activities and donation of equipment has helped the program grow.

Of course, assistance to keep SUDS moving is always necessary.  A progressive concept is “Sponsor A Soldier”, which allows a person to donate the cost for a soldier’s training and trip to complete certification.

For additional information, visit the SUDS website at


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