Soldiers Dive Into Therapeutic Waters

Soldiers Dive Into Therapeutic Waters

Thousands of visitors flock to the white sand beaches of St. John annually for a plentiful dose of rest and relaxation.

But, for wounded soldiers, it's more than an exotic vacation destination -- it's a chance to get some underwater relief from the aches and pains of their injuries.

"It's enlightenment really. Because you are so weightless, I don't have the pain that I usually do. It's pretty amazing," Army Maj. Joe Claburn told ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff.

Watch "World News with Charles Gibson" at 6:30 p.m. ET to see the full report.

Claburn is one of six wounded soldiers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center who took the trip to St. John with a non-profit organization called Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba, or SUDS, which teaches wounded veterans how to scuba dive.

"You cannot walk thru the front door of Walter Reed and see our injured soldiers and Marines and not want to get involved," SUDS president John Thompson said. "It's awesome. It's just something that I know that I need to do."

The program spans from the turquoise bays of St. John to the pools at Walter Reed, where the soldiers are put through vigorous tests both above and under water.

"They get a lot of pool time at Walter Reed before we ever bring them down here," Thompson said.

The soldiers say they find the water ideal -- it's a place where they feel comfortable and can improve their strength and mobility while swimming alongside coral and tropical fish.

"Walking is this thing subconsciously where I'm kind of always worrying about the next step so I don't fall. I'm worried about how people see me," Army Sniper Sgt. Joel Dulashanti said. "But in the water it's completely different. There are no worries down there."

Like many other soldiers, he said he found that scuba diving has offered him an open, carefree space that enables him to regain his confidence. Even soldiers embarking on their first diving trip, like Marine Sgt. Greg Edwards, will admit they aren't the least bit nervous.

"It lets you know that just because you have your legs and I don't, you're not better than me," Edwards said. "I can still do the same things that you do. It does not make you feel as small as you are when you first wake up in a hospital and you're having to have help with everything you do through the day."

Weight of World Falls Away in Water

Army Sgt. Shane Heath shares the same sentiment. Heath lost both his arm and leg when he stepped on an IED while on foot patrol in Ramadi, a city west of Baghdad.

"It helps you remember that you are still a complete person, that you don't have to rely on everyone," he said. "The program is just amazing. The instructors do a great job."

One of Heath's biggest worries after his accident, he told his family from his hospital bed, was that he would be unable to swim again.

"Through this program I found that I can not only swim, I can dive and do everything else associated with that, so they are very happy," he said.

For Edwards, scuba diving has been like getting a little bit of freedom back -- an opportunity for the veterans to be self-sufficient once more.

"When you're down there like me I don't have to have help with anything underwater. I can do everything by myself," Edwards said.

"You get in the water and you've got freedom," Thompson told Woodruff. "There's a saying Bob, that water is the great equalizer, and that is certainly true for scuba diving. It's almost like an astronaut flying through space."

Part of that freedom is the choice the soldiers have to participate in whatever way they feel comfortable. While most of the soldiers wear prosthetics while diving, Edwards, a double amputee, said he prefers to go without.

"It affects my buoyancy. I like the webbed gloves better," he said as he showed them off to Woodruff.

Once the soldiers dive into the water, they say they leave the whole world behind.

"There are no more worries about what is going on in your life and in the world," Dulashanti said. "You get down there and you can hear your breath, you can hear your inhale, and you can hear your exhale. You can see it. And it's just an automatic focus."

Claburn said he believes scuba diving offers more than relief from physical pain.

"All those soldiers who need to find some peace in their heart, to find some tranquility," he said. "Slap a tube on your vest and get underwater -- I guarantee you will find some true peace down there."

Underwater, where in the words of Jacques Cousteau, man can fly like an angel.

For more information on Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba, or SUDS, you can visit their Web site, www.sudsdiving.org.

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