In the Marine Corps, you will spend time in the water, either crossing the beach from an amphibious ship, traversing rivers and creeks on patrols, or simply taking swimming classes to ensure your capable in the water. Because if a Marine cannot swim, he or she is ineffective on 75% of the Earth and cannot be a Global Combat Support System and be Fully Operationally Capable. Yes, being able to swim and survive in the water is that important.
The Marine Corps has a system to teach swimming, water safety, and water survival in hostile water environments. The Marines earned their Marine Combat Instructor Water Survival (MCIWS) qualification at the Aquatic Center upon completion of the MCIWS course, the service members were certified to administer swim qualifications for their unit.
According to Marine Gunnery Sgt. Tim Sisson, the director of water survival for the Expeditionary Warfare Training Group Pacific, the MCIWS swim qualification, is one of the toughest swim qualifications in the military. The MCIWS course ranks in the top five of the most physically demanding courses in the Marine Corps, as many trainers are also highly motivated and move into RECON and MarSOC programs within the Marine Corps. Having a background in swimming / water polo athletics prior to serving is helpful as you need to be very comfortable in the water, capable in the water with both swimming and treading.
The challenge begins before the course starts. Prospective students are required to be Water Survival Qualified and complete a pre-test demonstrating their level of fitness in the water. The pre-test includes a 500-meter swim in less than 13 minutes, 25-meter underwater swim, and a 50-meter brick tow. The brick tow requires a person to carry a 10-pound brick out of the water while swimming a designated distance. Getting good at this test can require swimming 5-6 days a week in preparation to score competitively. Being able to swim at least a mile is a workout is ideal for the level of swimming ability the program is searching for.
On a recent class twenty-six students passed the pre-test and were admitted in the course, although not all of them completed the three weeks of training.
The first week of the course is focused on conditioning, swimming fundamentals, and rescue techniques, but the toughest part of the course was training day five. On this day, the students are required to save a simulated frantic drowning victim who drags them underwater. The life saving test is similar to water wrestling with a highly aggressive instructor. The student must demonstrate pressure point applications to relieve himself of the drowning victim and then swim the victim to safety. If a student does not pass this practical application testing, they are refreshed on the techniques and allowed one more opportunity to show proficiency before being dropped from the course.
The second week of the MCIWS course was devoted to the teaching aspect of the course. Students learned cardiorespiratory resuscitation and rescue breathing, additional types of rescues for drowning victims and furthered the skills they learned during the first week of class. It includes rescuing a drowning victim with the additional burden of all their combat gear.
The final week consisted of evaluations, including showing proficiency in the water with their hands or feet tied together. This technique is designed to instill confidence in the students and in the methods they learned during the course. It shows them that if they use the fundamentals taught to them and that they can survive in the water, even if they are tied.
To graduate and earn the MCIWS swim qualification, students must also give a 20-minute lecture on a swimming topic of their choice, show proficiency in different strokes in the pool, and perform other specific tasks to prove their competency in the water. So not just knowing how to swim is critical for the MCIWS instructor, but being able to teach swimming and water survival is a must. Many Marines have a goal with the MCIWS qualification is to train Marines and Sailors to be fighters, so they could live to fight another day and then go back home to their families.