Story and photos by Rick Emert
Hanging out at the indoor pool for training sounds like a great way to spend a Friday morning.
Unless, of course, you have to swim in the Army combat uniform and lug your “weapon” along.
For Soldiers from the 549th Quartermaster Company, 68th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 43rd Sustainment Brigade, the drown-proofing training offered by the indoor pool staff was a change of pace.
However for about half of the Soldiers – who didn’t know how to swim – the training may have been a bit too challenging for their liking.
Don Armes and John Hoffman, indoor pool staff, taught the Soldiers how to use their uniforms as makeshift life jackets. The course is available Mondays-Fridays but must be requested by units.
The training was developed years ago because of the number of troops who drowned during World War II, and it has been effective in saving lives, Armes said.
“This class is designed to teach them how to survive in a water situation,” Armes said. “During World War II, there were a lot of drownings, so they came up with this method of drown proofing and water survival to save lives. I think it’s been a very successful program.”
The uniform can help keep Soldiers afloat for hours eliminating the need to expend energy treading water, Armes said.
Armes taught as Hoffman demonstrated how to fill the uniform with air.
The ACU top must be held tight at the neck while the hand is used to swoop air under water and into the top.
The pants are removed and the legs tied together into a knot at the ends. They can be filled with air either by pulling the pants overhead from the back to the front, trapping air inside, or by swooping air in similar to how the top is filled.
The uniform can be filled with enough air to keep a Soldier’s equipment afloat, too, Armes said.
“You’re supposed to keep your equipment with you,” Armes said. “With this flotation, you can still maintain your weapon. Once you get the pants filled up with air, your flotation device will support all of that stuff.”
The Soldiers learned the technique in the shallow end of the pool. Later, they had to jump from the diving board into the deep end – a dummy M-16A2 in tow – and perform the steps without the safety of their feet touching bottom.
“The ones that aren’t afraid of the water don’t mind going off the board, but the ones that are you have to watch pretty closely,” Hoffman said.
Three instructors were on hand in case any of the Soldiers – whether they could swim or not – started having trouble in the pool.
“We do pull people out sometimes,” Armes said.
“You get people who say: ‘I’m a great swimmer.’ But, you aren’t a great swimmer when the (ACUs) are wet, and you have that extra weight.”
About half of the Soldiers couldn’t swim and used life jackets to perform the steps in the deep end of the pool.
“For Soldiers who can’t swim, teaching them how to do it in the shallow water gets them comfortable in the water,” Armes said. “Then we come (to the deep end), and they put a life jacket on. They’ll go off the diving board just like the swimmers. We do want them to get comfortable in the deep end, and they can do that by using the (life jacket).”
The life jacket was a confidence booster for
Sgt. Michael Rondez, 549th Quartermaster Company, who can’t swim.
“I liked going off the diving board; I had a lot of trust in that life jacket,” he said.
The training helped even the strong swimmers become more confident in the water.
“This training really helped to build up our confidence in the water,” said Sgt. Gerald Briggs, 549th Quartermaster Company. “It’s important training because of the rollovers (in canals and rivers) in Iraq; it really helps to build confidence, especially in Soldiers who can’t swim. I think it was good training, and we should try to set it up again.”