Thirteen U.S. Marines stationed across Okinawa graduated from the Advanced Water Survival Course at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on July 22.
WSA is the highest swimming qualification Marines can earn before becoming Marine Corps Water Survival Instructors. Throughout the course, students received training in aquatic conditioning, endurance swimming, and underwater rescue.
Taught by six Marine Corps Water Survival Instructors, each Marine endured a physically demanding eight-hour week of in-water training. The training included endurance swimming, underwater training and rescue techniques.
“These students went through a lot of aquatic conditioning exercises, underwater confidence drills, and team building drills,” said Sgt. Bryantruc Nguyen, a network administrator with Marine Air Control Squadron 4, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. “Underwater conditioning is extremely important as it gives students a foundation before turning them into open water rescues. ”
Nguyen explained that one of the hardest parts for the students was the underwater conditioning. Events for underwater conditioning were usually held with only physical training shorts. The purpose of the underwater training was to physically prepare the students for the tasks they would have to perform during rescues.
“As MCIWS, we make this course challenging so that we can fully trust the trainees to perform rescues and oversee future swim qualifications.” sergeant. Bryantruc Nguyen, 1st MAW Network Administrator
He said the students went through two shootout sessions, a main component of underwater confidence training. During the shootings, the students dropped their guns in the deep end. Once the guns were on the bottom, they would dive to retrieve their guns and stay underwater until they were ordered to come to the surface. Instructors increased the time spent underwater after each successive rifle rehearsal. During this iteration of the course, underwater training forced a handful of students out of the pool due to the difficulty of the task.
“Students also struggled with Marine Corps rescues because they were forced to perform open water rescues in their full combat gear without panicking,” Nguyen said. “As MCIWS, we make this course challenging so that we can fully trust the trainees to perform rescues and oversee future swim qualifications.”
According to Marine Corps Order 1500.52D, the intent of swim qualification classes is to ensure that every Marine meets the expectation of being “amphibious by nature”. This requires Marines to be prepared if they need to perform a rescue while on active duty.
“Swimming in combat uniforms was my weakness. I was a long distance swimmer in high school but never swam with full gear,” said Lance Cpl. Tyge Watts, a motor vehicle operator with 3rd Transportation Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group. “It’s a big hurdle that you have to deal with because it disrupts your form, and you have to go back and focus on the basics of swimming.”
Photo by photo courtesy
U.S. Marines participating in the Advanced Water Survival Course perform rescues on simulated casualties in distress during the WSA course on Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Japan, July 22, 2022. WSA is the highest swimming qualification that the Marines can get ahead to become Marine Corps water survival instructors. Throughout the course, students received training in aquatic conditioning, endurance swimming, and underwater rescue.
In conjunction with underwater conditioning, students performed Marine Corps lifesavings and endurance swims. During Marine Corps rescues, students underwent four different scenarios to rescue a battered victim and properly escort them out of the water in their full utility kit.
Watts said the 1,500-meter swim and full-dress Marine Corps rescues were the toughest challenges for him. Each day, students swam up to a mile, completed daily timed conditioning swims, and focused on different swimming techniques that helped them maneuver comfortably through the water in their full kits.
Nguyen explained that this iteration of the WSA course saw 12 out of 21 students graduate successfully upon completion of the course. The average dropout rate for each cycle is around 75-85% due to the intense physical demand to complete the course.
“WSA is definitely not a course for everyone, it’s a really big leap from the intermediate swim qualification course,” Nguyen said. “It’s definitely a great course, but only a select few can say they’re qualified for advanced swimming.