MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Summer has arrived in North Carolina. With the sun shining, ocean waves crashing and seashells scattering the shoreline, service members, families and Department of Defense civilians aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune are spending their days basking in the beauty of Onslow Beach.
Within this perfect picture of serenity are also bright splashes of red – men wearing red swim trunks and t-shirts with red logos – ready to help anyone at a moment’s notice. These Marines with the beach detachment, Company A, Headquarters and Support Battalion, MCB Camp Lejeune, are the lifeguards of Onslow Beach.
“We sit out on post, make sure no one swims out too far and ensure everyone abides by the beach rules,” said Cpl. William Hutton, a chief lifeguard with the beach detachment and a rifleman with 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. “We ultimately ensure the safety of the patrons on the beach.”
In addition to being eagle eyes for the officer, enlisted and staff noncommissioned officer beaches, these guardians double as the shoreline’s law enforcement personnel.
They ensure beach visitors are wearing appropriate swim attire and that dogs are staying within their boundaries – south of the SNCO’s pavilion – and on a leash. Finally, these lifeguards ensure patrons do not bring forbidden items, such as glass bottles, to the beach, mainly to protect children and wildlife from broken glass.
With the lives of so many people in these protectors’ hands, the physical and mental challenges to become lifeguard certified are high. Marines are not required to have a specific swim qualification level or previous lifeguard experience to become a certified lifeguard. However, Hutton said the eight-week certification program was very demanding.
The course continually tested the lifeguards’ knowledge and performance of swimming, rescue, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first-aid skills. They also had to swim 500 meters nonstop, retrieve several items from the bottom of the pool in one breath, and swim to the deep end and back while retrieving a brick that simulated a drowning victim to be recognized as an official Marine Corps lifeguard.
For Cpl. Rick McAdon, a beach detachment squad leader, and Cpl. Ryan Muzzell, a lifeguard, Onslow Beach provides a different scene than the one they were in just six months ago. McAdon and Muzzell, both riflemen with 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, recently returned from serving in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Although the infantrymen both enjoy going to the beach, they know their first duty is to save lives.
“Every Marine is an observer, and coming out to Onslow Beach and having to scan the water and look for people who are drowning or in trouble has made my observation skills sharper,” said McAdon. “Whether looking for an (improvised explosive device) or a drowning victim, you develop a trained eye to (spot) what you are looking for.”
Muzzell said his combat experience in Afghanistan has helped him become a better lifeguard.
“You stand post … to keep a lookout for your enemies and to use your skills to engage them if need be,” said Muzzell. “Now I am standing post on the beach, on the lookout for patrons and to save them if need be. Both ways, you’re saving lives, just different ways of doing it.”
McAdon said the lifeguards are a tight-knit group, bonded together by past deployment experiences and united in an effort to save lives both on the homefront and on the battlefield overseas.
One Marine spouse and mother of two young children said she felt very comfortable bringing her family to the beach, knowing there was a strong, protective presence just a few feet from where her children played.
“It’s a lot safer and (the lifeguards) are always there to help,” she said. “It gives me peace of mind knowing they are out here.”