MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
The ocean’s choppy waves cause the water to rush inside the boat slowly, causing it to sink. In the middle of the ocean, as a growing fear sets in, a loud rumble is heard overhead in the dark night. Looking up in the sky, a bright light breaks the darkness, and down comes a man on a rope yelling he’s here to help. He then puts a strap around your waist and begins to hoist you from the cold water and toward the helicopter with the spotlight.
A scenario like this is typical during boating season and can happen to anyone this summer. In preparation for such real-life scenarios, Marines and Sailors of Marine Transport Squadron 1 train to rescue stranded boaters.
New Marines and Sailors with VMR-1’s search and rescue group conducted their first two tests in their search and rescue certification testing June 3.
The first test was a search and rescue exercise, also known as a SAR-X, in the Croatan National Forest.
“This type of training keeps us on point,” said Gunnery Sgt. Ryan C. Smith, a rescue swimmer with Pedro. “The situations these young SAR trainees go through are the same kind of situations we have to respond to weekly, if not day to day.”
Smith had a fellow gunnery sergeant under his wing during the training exercises who shares a deep passion for the mission of Pedro.
“Every time I get a chance to conduct training that gets me closer to certification is exciting and motivating,” said Gunnery Sgt. John P. Vinlove, a flight line division chief and is training as a rescue swimmer with Pedro. “Not only that, but getting to fly with such a great group of Marines and Sailors in a mission to not only help the air station but protect the lives of eastern North Carolina in a different way than Marines usually do.”
Vinlove said the training they conducted in the Croatan helped prepare him for a situation in which Pedro may have to rescue a pilot in a highly vegetated area.
“The dense amount of trees and brush made it extremely difficult to see the simulated casualties while on the ground,” said Vinlove. “This also made it difficult to get the gear we needed from the helicopter to the ground, where we needed it.”
Lance Cpl. Tristan L. Morgan said he felt the exercise gave him a better understanding of the stress of the job.
“This was a huge learning experience,” said Morgan who is training to become a Pedro crew chief. “I have practiced a lot of these things by myself and then to put them all together was really tough. This job takes a lot of multi-tasking skills that I am developing.”
Smith said the part the trainees struggle with the most is the multitasking.
“They need to learn and learn fast to be a strong asset to Pedro,” said Smith. “For that reason we throw everything we can at them and try to stress them out just to see what they have down deep.”
After the visit to the Croatan National Forest and the SAR-X was complete, Pedro moved to the water after picking up a few more passengers.
“We have four Marines and Sailors getting their certification as rescue swimmers,” said Smith.
In the open water a few miles off the coast from Fort Macon, swimmers deployed into the water along with Smith and another supervisor. They worked with the rescue strop putting it on people and taking it off while the water and waves rushed around the swimmers.
“During our certification testing to become a SAR member, we are tested both physically and mentally,” said Vinlove. “Every time we do something right in our training, we learn a little bit more about our strengths and weaknesses in our jobs.”
Morgan said he felt the training put their stress levels to the ultimate test with a shining bright light on the rewards of succeeding in their certification.
“Every day we train to become SAR members,” said Morgan. “It is that spark and knowing that with each day we train, it brings me one more step closer to helping the Marine Corps, Cherry Point and our nation.”