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Readiness Enabler for Operational Forces  •
Amphibious forces: Marines conduct annual swim qualification training

By Nathan L. Hanks Jr. | | August 7, 2014


Navigating the seas as an amphibious force has long been a critical role for the Marine Corps.

To remain a fighting force in readiness, in peace or in war, Marines are required to participate in annual swim qualification training.

Various commands throughout Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany sent 98 Marines to complete their annual swim qualification requirements at the Base Pool, July 28 – Friday.

All 98 Marines qualified with 72 earning the Water Survival-Basic qualification and 26 receiving the Water Survival-Intermediate qualification. Marines who qualified at WS-B must re-qualify in two years while Marines who obtained WS-I will have to re-qualify in three years.

Sgt. Bryan Kampa, contract specialist, Contracting Department, Marine Corps Logistics Command, was one of two Marines to complete the screening test for Marine Corps Instructor of Water Survival school during swim qualification.

“A lot of Marines do not like to do swim qualification because of what they hear about the school,” Kampa said. “Arguably, depending on who you talk to, it is one of the hardest schools in the Marine Corps because there are not many Marines who like swimming.”

Kampa said he wanted to do the Water Survival-Advanced qualification but was advised by Marine Corps Instructor of Water Survival instructors to attend the MCIWS course in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

“We do not have (swim) instructors on base and I am in the below zone this year so if I don’t get promoted, I wanted something in my record (to be more competitive,” he said. “It (would) save the base from having to spend money to bring the instructors down here and do a swim qualification all week if you have guys on base who can come out and do this.”

Gunnery Sgts. Michel Bissell and Timothy Hopkins, both swim instructors with Water Survival Section, Support Battalion, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, conducted the training.

“The purpose of the swim qualification is to ensure Marines are able to survive in the water,” Bissell said. “We work to reduce fear of the water and enable their capabilities to where if they fell off a ship they would be able t to survive. We are not trying to make everyone Olympians, just give them the basics to survive.”

Everyone needs to be able to swim because the cliché answer is that Marines are amphibious by nature, and it is true, according to Bissell.

He noted Marines never know what type of environment they could be in at any given time.

Marines may have to cross lakes or rivers in the desert or deploy with a Marine expeditionary unit, he said.

“In order to get to the big boat, you have to take a smaller boat and sometimes the smaller boats may not make it,” Bissell said.

Just as every Marine is a rifleman, every Marine needs to learn how to swim, Hopkins said.

He said it’s important to teach Marines how to swim and survive in the water and referenced a scene in the movie, “Saving Private Ryan.” 

“Just like in the movie, ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ (soldiers) jumped off the boat and sank to the bottom and drowned because they could not get their gear off their body fast enough,” Hopkins said.

Bissell shared a story of a Marine in his company who almost drowned during a deployment to Afghanistan in 2009. The Marines were with Second Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

“A squad was tasked to cross the Helmand River in Afghanistan and set up a (listening position and observation post),” Bissell said. “When they were crossing, the point man hit a deep spot and he was not able to come back up, but he was able to get his gear off and the squad leader grabbed him and (pulled) him (to safety).

“If he had not been able to take his gear off, that Marine would have died,” he said.

He said this is why it is imperative for the Marines to know how to get their gear off their body in a timely manner.

Bissell said he tells the story because if the Marines know the purpose behind what they do, they are inclined to take it more seriously.