MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan -- A booming voice echoes off the walls as a row of fully equipped Marines take a step into the deep crystal clear waters inside the IronWorks Gym indoor pool at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Nov.16, 2017.
U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Melisa Cancienne, squadron gunnery sergeant for Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, has been training America’s amphibious fighting force as a Marine combat instructor of water survival since her completion of Marine Corps Water Survival School in March of 2012.
Cancienne was originally selected to become an instructor while on her tour of duty at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, as a drill instructor.
“MCWIS isn’t something that I chose to do,” said Cancienne. “It was one of those things put forth before me, and I always accept challenges. It was by far the hardest course I have ever done in my life. Hands down the hardest thing, and it really made me look deep into myself and made me realize that if I can get through this, there’s nothing else the Marine Corps can throw at me that I can’t accomplish.”
As the lead MCWIS instructor on MCAS Iwakuni, Cancienne has coordinated hundreds of Marines’ swim qualifications throughout her tour. She has also devoted time outside of qualification to aid Marines seeking to improve their proficiency in the pool.
“As the commandant stated, we are amphibious,” said Cancienne. “It is a graduation requirement to qualify in the pool. It’s something you have to do in order to be a Marine and something that has to be maintained. People just need to be held to those standards, and there’s no excuse not to be.”
Cancienne has also taken on the role of mentor to instructors such as U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Michael McKeon, motor transportation chief with Combat Logistics Company 36. McKeon is one of the instructors selected to fill Cancienne’s position once she continues on to her next duty station.
“She’s got that DI energy that rubs off on anyone,” said McKeon. “She’s always to the point, always motivated. I was really excited when I first met her because there’s always a type of style when it comes to instructing, and she and I are compatible.”
McKeon has worked with Cancienne since they were introduced in January 2016. During that time, McKeon has been observing Cancienne’s procedures and her ability to successfully manage large scale qualifications, along with her ways of teaching Marines easier ways to learn.
“She upholds the standards for instructors very well, and now that she is leaving I will continue to uphold those same standards as we continue training Marines,” said McKeon. “Taking on her role is another thing on my plate that I’m ready to accomplish and succeed in, and I only hope that I do it as well and successful as she does. She has a great background; she’s a great Gunnery Sergeant. Those are a lot of shoes to fill, but I’m going to do what I can to fill them.”
Cancienne is relocating to MCAS Yuma, Ariz. in the beginning of the new year, where she plans on sustaining an active-instructor role as it is something she has grown fond of.
“My favorite thing about it is probably the fact that I am a MCWIS that people want to be or wish they could be,” said Cancienne. “It’s a small community so you get that pride of belonging. When you meet another MCWIS you bask in everyone’s version of the difficulties they overcame in their courses, and you get that sense of brotherhood.”
As she prepares to depart MCAS Iwakuni, she leaves behind highly skilled Marines confident in their abilities to maintain the standards and continue to give their all to train others.
“Best of luck to her and the rest of her career,” said McKeon. “We weren’t in the same unit together but when we were in the pool we worked well together, and I am thankful for what she taught me. I’m glad I was able to help her out while she was here.”