Story by Sgt. Lillian Stephens
CORONADO, Calif. – Twenty-four Marines from across the country gathered at the training pool aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, on the first day of the Marine Corps Instructor of Water Survival (MCIWS) course.
To continue in the course, all the Marines had to pass the initial screening: A timed 500-meter swim, a 50-meter brick tow, 25-meter underwater swim, and 25 meters to retrieve a brick from the bottom of the pool and swim it back to the starting point.
Two students failed that day and only 12 remained after nine training days.
During the course, students endured lengthy conditioning exercises, physical training sessions and repeated rescue drills to help prepare them to perform beach rescues in Coronado, California, June 19.
Students swam 500 meters into the open ocean, rescued their classmates who pretended to be victims and towed them back to shore.
Graduating students will have certifications in American Red Cross Waterfront Lifeguarding, CPR and First Aid in addition to being qualified swim instructors.
“A lot of people, when they think of MCIWS, they just think of a pool, which is a controlled environment,” said Gunnery Sgt. Brandon Soetaert, the chief instructor trainer of the MCIWS course. “What we’re trying to do is train Marines in water survival. In this course particularly, we’re training instructors [who will] train Marines in the operational forces.”
The MCIWS course teaches basic, intermediate, and advanced water survival skills. The instructors directly impact the Marine Corps’ ability to fulfill its long-standing title as the “soldiers of the sea.”
Sgt. Jesse Houseman, a MCIWS course student, said Marines need the ability to swim regardless of their military occupational specialty.
“I have a lot of Marines who are going out on ships into the open ocean,” said Houseman. “God forbid anything happen, but if [they’re] strong swimmers, [their] chances of survival are that much better.”
According to Soetaert, making instructors is about teaching Marines to survive in water.
“A combat environment is not going to be in a pool,” said Soetart. “It’s going to be in the open ocean. We’re putting Marines out there into your units to teach [your Marines] how to survive in the water, in situations like the Battle of Tarawa, so that Marines don’t die for their lack of swimming ability.”
Houseman said MCIWS is about more than the prestige of completing a difficult task.
“It’s my job … to make sure my Marines can survive in any clime and place,” said Houseman.