CAMP ZAMA, Japan -- To figuratively "tread water" means to be stuck in a perpetual state without making any progression, but ask the group that was doing that literally while wearing combat uniforms, and they would say they definitely learned something.
Soldiers assigned to U.S. Army Aviation Battalion -- Japan and members of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force spent the morning of Oct. 19 in the pool at Camp Zama's Yano Fitness Center conducting various drills and learning techniques to enhance their aquatic proficiency and confidence as part of water survival training.
Although everyone had different levels of swimming skills, instructor Chief Warrant Officer 2 Zach Rubino said his goal was for each person who participated in his training to leave being more proficient than when they started.
"Swimming is not just for recreation or exercise; it's also a life-saving skill," said Rubino, assigned to USAABJ. "And that's something I think we all need to have in general, but specifically for our job."
USAABJ includes pilots and crew members who fly and work on UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, and their missions in the aircraft--particularly in Japan--mean a significant time flying over open water. Spc. Bejamin Freda, a UH-60 crew chief, said time and training are paramount to being able to survive in the event of a crash over water.
"If your aircraft goes down over water, you've got to be able to escape and potentially sustain yourself in the water for an extended period of time," said Freda. "It's very important to be aware of what your abilities are and to expand upon those abilities to ensure you can survive a potentially dangerous situation."
The group began with 45 minutes of straightforward warm-up exercises, swimming laps in their physical training uniforms while using a variety of strokes to practice their form. They then changed into their combat uniform--pants and a long-sleeve top--before jumping back in the water and acclimating themselves to the added weight and resistance of the heavier clothing. This is done, Rubino said, to recreate the likely circumstances if a water landing did occur.
"People think, 'Oh, it's just being stationary in the water; that's easy,' but it's really quite a balance," said Rubino. "If someone was doing this for the first time, I think a lot of folks would find it difficult just to keep their chin above the water, and how much energy they're going to have to use just to keep themselves afloat."
While treading water, the participants were challenged with carrying and passing a rubber brick to one another without letting it break the surface of the water--a task deceptively more difficult than it appeared, said one JGSDF participant.
"This was my first time doing this kind of training," said JGSDF Sgt. Yamatani Kotaro, assigned to the 1st Helicopter Brigade. "It was very hard for me, because I never thought it would be so difficult to hold a brick above the water. It was difficult, but it was also enjoyable training."
The bilateral aspect of the training was beneficial, Rubino said, because in not every location do U.S. Soldiers get to train with other countries' forces.
"Every opportunity we get to train with [the JGSDF] is always unique, because in some parts of the Army we don't get that opportunity," said Rubino. "Every time we get to, it's special. They get to learn something from us, and we get to learn something from them."
Following the formal portion of the training, the group finished with a game of water polo, which Staff Sgt. Todd Barker, a platoon sergeant, said was a great way to wind down after having completed the more demanding portion of their time in the water.
"It's always fun to play water polo," said Barker. "It's kind of like a morale booster."