Aviation Marines, Sailors test water survival skills

14 Oct 2014 | Cpl. Grace L. Waladkewics

A group of enlisted Marines and Sailors attended the Shallow Water Egress Trainer Aircrew Indoctrination Class on Water Survival at the Aviation Survival Training Center at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., Oct. 6-8.

The training was conducted at an indoor pool, allowing the students to develop and enhance their survival techniques. The course put students in a chamber resembling a CH-53E Super Stallion or a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter to simulate a water emergency egress while under water.

“For their initial qualification, Aviation Marines and Sailors attend this three-day course to learn survival skills, first aid procedures for themselves and their buddy and experience first-hand how to use the gear and equipment,” said Joel Imbody, leading chief petty officer with the ASTC. “This is the first time they are exposed to this type of training in the water with a full-gear load. We stress safety in all situations and always remind the students to stay calm in the water.”

Following a series of classes, safety procedures and gear familiarization, students entered the pool for the first time to begin their practical application.

The survival swim is the initial evaluation consisting of a 75-meter swim using the survival breast stroke; a 2-minute tread of water where students must keep their head above water; and a 7-minute drown proofing portion where the student is required to fill their lungs with air, slow their breathing and heart rate and float on top of the water.

According to Imbody, the survival swim portion of the course allows instructors to evaluate the students’ abilities and make a determination whether they are prepared to move on to more advanced training or require remediation.

“The class, which started with 12 students, will enter the second portion with only four. The rest will have to come back and restart the class at a later date due to a failure of some portion,” said Imbody.

The students utilized their Survivor Egress Air Bottles which contain approximately 30-45 seconds of air during the next portion of the course. During this portion, the students were required to be pushed under water by safety swimmers. The first time they would be in the sitting position and the second time they would be upside down.

 “The swimmer and the Shallow Water Egress Trainer are the final two exercises, leading up to the helicopter-dunker egress trainer,” said Imbody. “The SWET is a chair that the student buckles himself into. The chair is rotated under water and the student is required to unbuckle from the seat, gain positive control within the aircraft by grabbing a reference point, and guide themselves safely out of the situation.”

According to Imbody, the final portion of the class combines everything the Marines and Sailors learned throughout the course. The students are assigned seats in the dunker for a series of performance tests simulating day and night dunks under varying conditions. The dunker drops into the water with the students strapped inside and rotates upside down.

“At first I was really nervous and had to keep reminding myself to stay calm,” said Lance Cpl. Kyle Pritchett, a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter mechanic with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461. “Once I got in the water and was shown how to use the gear and got to try everything out myself, I felt much more confident in my abilities.”

All of the students agreed that the ability to stay calm in a water survival scenario was one of the most valuable pieces of information they learned in the course.

“The training I received makes me feel more comfortable with my gear and more ready to become an aerial observer which is my ultimate goal,” said Pritchett, a native of Colleyville, Texas.

According to Pritchett, he has started to gain muscle memory after completing the various training scenarios, so if he is ever in a situation where he needs the skills, they will kick in and he will have the ability to stay calm and safe.

Each Marine and Sailor who completed the course is now qualified and will not have to repeat this training for four years.

Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point