An hour before dusk in February 2015, a plane touched down on the tarmac at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay ... and as people descended the stairs a step at a time by foot ... one person made his way down the stairs using only his upper body.
With wild, all-over-the-place brown hair and an excited "I'm going to conquer the world" look in his brown eyes, retired Army Staff Sgt. Timothy Payne sat himself down on the ground awaiting his ride to take him on his next big adventure ... several days of diving in the tropical water surrounding GTMO with Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba.
February 15, 2015 - Disabled warrior, retired Army Staff Sgt. Timothy Payne scuba dives just off the coast of U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay during an eight-day scuba event hosted by Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba. It was Payne's first time diving since he was certified three years ago. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Christopher Moore)
Payne is a combat veteran who has experienced some of the most horrific, life-altering events in his 11 years in the military.
July 3, 2011, during a tour in Afghanistan, Payne stepped on an improvised explosive device, changing his world entirely. Conscious while his Soldiers performed combat first aid, Payne knew he lost his legs. He knew he would no longer be able to walk.
Payne was taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center where he underwent numerous surgeries for almost a year.
“For a while there I was asking myself why did I survive this, why am I even here? I just kept feeling sorry for myself,” Payne said. “When I first got injured, I was on all of these medications, and it was an invisible weight on my shoulders. After a while, I got accused of being addicted to all of them, and I told my doctor let me show you how addicted I am to them. I just stopped taking them completely.”
Once Payne completely gave up all of his pain medications he turned to swimming as his safe haven. He channeled all of his anger toward it and wouldn't give up on himself.
Payne said there were a lot of times where he wanted to stop and quit on himself, but every time he would, he'd think to himself “what if I was my Soldier, would I want them to quit?”
As Payne got stronger and started swimming more, he knew he wouldn't fail his Soldiers at any cost.
“They rely on me to do the best thing for them, so I needed to stay motivated and positive because if I can do it; they can do it, anybody can do it,” Payne said.
Payne was still working toward recovering when he heard about the SUDS program at Walter Reed. At first, he never thought diving would be possible because he blew out his ear drum when he was injured, but after numerous tests were done he got medically cleared and started his journey with SUDS.
SUDS is a program that focuses on the rehabilitation process of Wounded Warriors in an aquatic environment through a form of therapy – diving.
John W. Thompson, a retired Army National Guard Soldier and SUDS president, found the program Feb. 27, 2007, at Walter Reed.
The program welcomes service members from the three primary military hospitals: Walter Reed, Naval Medical Center San Diego and San Antonio Military Medical Center.
“I went through a month-long course, and got trained and once all of my paperwork and testing was done with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, I went down to Cura�ao and got certified,” Payne said. “From swimming to scuba diving, SUDS has been monumental as far as my recovery has gone because it keeps my mind occupied and not thinking and dwelling on negative things.”
Since Payne retired from the military last February, he's been distant from the lifestyle he once knew. Last October, Thompson came to him and asked him if he would be interested in a trip to GTMO to have the chance to go diving with all of the other services.
“I was like, ‘Dude, this is super freaking awesome,' like I'm going right back into what I was a part of for so long in my life that how could I pass this opportunity up, so just being around the family community of the military is just great. It's really important to me,” Payne said.
Payne took control of his recovery and since has participated in multiple cycling marathons to include the Chicago Marathon, the New York City Marathon and he's getting ready to do the Los Angeles Marathon next month. Then in April, he will participate in the Boston Marathon. He got certified in diving and hopes to soon start skydiving.
“He wants to get involved in everything, and I think that's been very beneficial with his recovery. He is not one of those guys who just wants to sit home and play Xbox. He wants to get out there,” Thompson said. “He told me he's going to get certified in skydiving, and he just wants to be a part of everything and those are things that are really beneficial for these guys' recoveries.”
Tim is working toward walking again, someday. He is in the process of getting fitted for prosthetics. His life goal is to skydive into stadiums and walk up to the podium using his prosthetics to give motivational speeches
Learn more about Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba.
By U.S. Army Spc. Amber Bohlman
Provided through DVIDS
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