Most have lost limbs and some have lost hope, but all of them find freedom in the water.
Larry Hammonds ’61, M ’72 watches veterans make positive changes beneath the surface — both under the water and inside the mind — every time he works as a volunteer instructor with Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba.
“For a lot of these guys, scuba is really the first activity they’ve gotten involved in since they were injured,” said Larry, who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1954 to 1958. Apprehension is common among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are submerging themselves minus one or more limbs. “After being in the pool for a while, they come up grinning ear to ear and I overhear them saying, ‘That was cool.’
“Underwater, they have complete freedom,” Larry said.
A retired art and photography teacher, Larry took up scuba diving with his wife, Sandi, about 25 years ago. He heard about SUDS shortly after it was founded in 2007 through his part-time work in a D.C.-area scuba shop.
Over time, divers graduate from the pool and go on to adventures in much bigger waters — like those off the coast of Rincon, Puerto Rico, or Morehead City, N.C. — over time. Part of Walter Reed Medical Center’s Wounded Warrior Clinic, SUDS serves as a gateway to other rehabilitation activities too, Larry said.
“They do learn scuba, but … that to me is not really as important as the life attitude that changes after those first few sessions in the pool,” he said. “It’s absolutely amazing.”