Coming up for air: Marines challenged by scout swimmer course
CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan -- Marines participated in a scout swimmers course Oct. 22 at the Camp Hansen Aquatics Center.
The scout swimmers course provides the Marine Corps with amphibious capabilities, so Marines can begin a boat raid from land or sea. During a raid, the scout swimmers leave the boat force first to secure the beach and then signal for follow-on forces to come ashore.
To enter the course, students go through a screening process to ensure they know how to swim and are comfortable in the water, according to Sgt. Gerry Pratama, an amphibious raid instructor with Expeditionary Operations Training Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III MEF. By the end of the three-week course, Marines who pass will be qualified as basic scout swimmers and able to serve in boat raids.
“Everyone’s been exhausted before, but once you’re in the water it’s a whole different mental process,” said Sgt. Jon Walters, the senior amphibious raid instructor with EOTG. “Some guys will get a little nervous in the ocean if they’re exhausted because if you’re on land, you can sit down, but if you’re in the water and you get tired, there’s nowhere for you to go.”
Before entering the ocean, Marines spend a week in the pool and classroom for conditioning purposes, earning a lifeguard certification and learning about the dangers of the water. The course is geared toward making students proficient at swimming with fins for long distances, a vital skill for scout swimmers to have when they approach a beach.
“I’ve always been a fairly strong swimmer,” said Capt. James S. Mackin, a student with EOTG, from Birmingham, Alabama. “I never swam over a long distance with fins. Having to swim 800 meters in the pool with fins is definitely a new experience.”
The instructors led students in surface swims with fins, rescue techniques, water aerobics, and regular swimming techniques to include the front crawl, breast stroke, side stroke and back stroke, according to Walters, from Matoaca, Virginia.
“The first week in the pool is the hardest week; especially the water aerobics,” said Pratama, from Anahuac, Texas. “We are swimming back and forth, but we are not just doing the cross stroke or side stroke. We’re putting rifles in there, we’re doing underwater swims, we’re doing buddy tows, and it creates a lot of friction in the course.”
The course’s culminating event consists of a two-kilometer surface swim with fins.
“It feels good to complete this course because you’re going to be the small percentage of people in the Marine Corps that are going to be competent in the water,” said Pratama. “I think that drives people through the course and (makes them) want to finish this and become a better swimmer.”