On June 11, the National Aquarium had the honor of hosting a group of wounded veterans for a unique guest dive in the Wings in the Water and Atlantic Coral Reef exhibits. Nine wounded soldiers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center were transported by the U.S. Coast Guard to the National Aquarium for the event.
The soldiers have been participating in Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba (SUDS), a nonprofit program designed to help improve the lives of inured soldiers through diving; training the soldiers in such a challenging and rewarding activity can help facilitate the rehabilitation process and promote mobility. While at the Aquarium, they were taught the basics of Aquarium diving and safety procedures before plunging into the world of sting rays, sharks, and over 50 species of fish. One of the veterans talked about the benefits of diving,
“You feel like you have no injury at all, you’re just in the water and you keep up with everybody else and it just really puts a lot more confidence back in yourself. It’s beautiful down there. It’s awesome.”
Each diver was accompanied in the water by dive professionals from the Aquarium. They were able to spend 20 minutes in each exhibit exploring and interacting with the animals. The animals responded exceptionally well and greeted all of the divers. Calypso, the Aquarium’s green sea turtle, was very curious and interactive. She observed one of the double amputee veterans with prosthetic legs and sat down in his lap. Calypso was rescued in 2000 and had to have her flipper amputated due to a severe infection. She was a huge hit with all of the wounded veterans.
Henderson Wetsuits provided each diver with a custom wetsuit complete with the SUDS, Aquarium, and Wounded Warrior logos. Nick Calyonias, National Geographic underwater videographer, was filming the dive with the same High Definition underwater video camera that he used to film this year’s lead show on Discovery Channels Shark Week. The event was supported by the National Aquarium, United States Coast Guard and Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba (SUDS).