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Cpl. Robert Berndt, a machine gunner with 5th Marine Headquarters and Green Bay, Wis., native, conducts a rescue exercise during a Marine Corps Instructor of Water Survival course at the Water Survival Training Tank aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., Oct. 25. The three week course taught the students various first aid and rescue techniques.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Owen Kimbrel

Time to sink or swim; Marines train to become instructors

30 Oct 2013 | Lance Cpl. Owen Kimbrel

Eyes gaze into the depths of the pool awaiting the day’s training and as the whistle sounds, the Marines plunge into the water. Students swim their way through the Marine Corps Instructor of Water Survival course at a Water Survival Training Tank aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., Oct. 18 – Nov. 8.

Marines, sticking true to their amphibious nature, train in water survival and rescue techniques to become proficient in emergency situations. The grueling three week course pushes Marines past their limits to earn the black shirt symbolizing the title of instructor.

“There’re not a lot of people out there these days that are wearing the black t-shirts,” said Staff Sgt. Nathan Karlson, chief instructor of the MCIWS course. “When most people see someone wearing the black t-shirt, they know they have been through this course.”

Students spend the majority of their day alternating between the pool and classes. The course teaches various types of first aid and certifies them as Red Cross lifeguards. Upon completing the course, students can teach beginner, intermediate and advanced water survival skills.

“It’s physically and mentally demanding, just overall tiring,” said 1st Lt. Benjamin Cole, a communications officer with 9th Communications Battalion and Havelock, N.C., native.

The students not only train in the pool, they push themselves in the ocean as well. The Marines perform rescues and conditioning exercises in the ocean to develop awareness of the challenges they could face.

“Most people know that this course is probably one of the biggest gut-check courses the Marine Corps has to offer,” added Karlson.

The MCIWS course allows Marines to advise unit commanders in aquatic training and safety procedures. Marines will perform as certified water survival instructors upon graduation of the course, Nov. 8.

3rd Marine Aircraft Wing