KADENA AIR BASE, OKINAWA, Japan – “Toes on the edge!”
Marines and sailors from across Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler jumped into the pool at 7:00 a.m. to begin the week-long Water Survival Advanced (WSA) course, after receiving the command from Petty Officer 2nd Class Kody Schwartz, a Marine Corps instructor of water survival.
The Okinawa-based Marines and sailors endured and completed the advanced swim qualification course from Jan. 27-31 at the Fairchild Pool, Kadena Air Base.
WSA is the highest swim qualification Marines and sailors can receive before attending the instructor's course.
“Don’t come here thinking, ‘Oh, I kind of know how to swim,’” said Schwartz. “This course is meant for people who know how to swim and want to push their abilities to the extremes.”
The students learned how to stay calm in the water, even in the most stressful environments and to rescue others under any circumstance.
They learned four different types of rescues, learning techniques necessary to rescue Marines with a full Marine Corps combat utility uniform on.
“It is a lot heavier,” said Sgt. Jared Lucke, a Marine Corps instructor of water survival, and a native of Cincinnati, Ohio. “The Marines and sailors really struggle a lot more and it takes a lot out of them.”
The course taught various techniques including Marine Corps water survival skills and American Red Cross rescues. The students did not get Red Cross certified, but became effective with Red Cross rescue tube.
On the third day of the course, the students pushed their bodies to the limits.
“Day three is their, ‘Hell Day,’” said Schwartz. “It’s long swims, a lot of push-ups, sit-ups, flutter kicks, gutter-ups, rifle retrievals and underwater breath holds. It’s basically to challenge them and make them know that no matter what happens in the water that they’re going to be confident, and rescue anybody under any conditions.”
"It’s one thing after another," said Lance Cpl. Zachary Larsen, the course's class commander and a combat graphic specialist with Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Installations Pacific-Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler.
“You have no idea what is going to happen next,” said Larsen. “One minute, you’re holding a brick above water or retrieving rifles, and the next you’re trying to hold a basketball down at the bottom of the deep end," he said.
On average, the participants swam over roughly twelve miles in total. That distance is greater than the height of 43 Empire State Buildings.
“It’s hard,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Israel Nolen, the course's honor graduate and a corpsman with 3rd Medical Battalion. “Going through this course is no joke. I thought it was going to be easy, but it definitely pushes you to your limit and outside your comfort zone. You really have to dig deep.”
Upon graduation, the newly awarded WSA Marines and sailors return to their units with the ability to physically train up to five people in the pool and assist Marine Corps instructors of water survival during basic and intermediate swim qualifications.
“Water survival is critical,” said Lucke. “Especially out here in Okinawa. The commandant said that this is his main focus. We [are] on an island and we just need to stop incidents from happening. I think just having Marines and sailors trained at all times, whether you’re in uniform or not, you’ll be able to help people.”