MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- A Marine is thrown overboard by rough seas, falling into the deep, cold ocean waters. He has nothing but his own skills to help save him if no one notices he is gone.
This is a potentially life-threatening scenario, but with reliable training there is hope - the Combat Water Survival Swimming School.
The mission of the school is to teach individual Marines how to survive in various aquatic environments, reduce fear of the water and build self-confidence, according to Staff Sgt. Lanny B. Powell, the schools’s chief instructor.
The school is home to four instructors who are tasked with training Marine Corps instructors of water survival stationed east of the Mississippi River or in European duty stations, according to Powell.
The instructors teach five classes for Marine Corp instructors of water survival and teach another class for Marines who are aspiring to be instructors at the school, according to Powell. Between classes, the school can travel to units who cannot attend the school.
“We go down to [Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island] a lot to train the Marines there to be instructors,” Powell said.
The school can accommodate 30 students at a time, but because of the screening process and the low number of Marines coming to the course, class size averages around 10-15 students.
For a Marine to become an instructor, they must go through a prescreening, have a water survival qualification and be observed by an instructor.
The prescreening consists of a variety of different swims including a timed 500-meter swim, which must be completed in 13 minutes or faster, and a brick retrieval swim.
During the course, Marines become life guard certified and certified in American Red Cross cardio pulmonary resuscitation for children and seniors, according to Powell. The students also learn a wide array of different rescues for saving a drowning person in the water.
Marines go through another series of tests including many academic written tests at the end of the course. One of the last tests includes a 1,500 meter timed swim.
The Marines spend a lot of hours in the water during the course to learn the life saving techniques and build the strength to perform them, according to Powell.
“It was a difficult course to go through because of the challenging pace,” said 1st Lt. Christopher Nolf, a student participating in the course.
The course has changed over the years, according to Powell. The course used to include drills where a person had to learn techniques to swim with their hands and feet tied.
“This was done so you knew you could do anything in the water,” said Gunnery Sgt. Benny Antle, a student who first went through the course when he was 25 years old. “This also gave you the sense of what it was like not to be able to swim.”
The course is designed to train the trainers, according to Powell. The school makes every effort to help the students learn the techniques and help the students do the best they can.
The school is offered to Marines and sailors and gives the Marines an extra military operational specialty of 8563. The course is intended for corporals and above, but lance corporals who are competent and meet the requirements can get a waiver signed by their command to attend the school.
Any Marine who is interested in taking the course can find information by contacting their unit’s training office.