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Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Walters, a hospital corpsman with 3rd Medical Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, conducts a rifle swim during the water survival advanced course on Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Japan, June 17, 2021. WSA is the highest swim qualification Marines and sailors can obtain before moving onto the next echelon of becoming a Marine Corps Instructor of Water Survival. The week-long course kicks off with a water survival pre screening event, and the remainder of the course consists of numerous endurance swims, life-saving techniques and applications, physical and mental conditioning, and countless swimming drills to ensure students have the confidence to not only maintain themselves but others’ lives while in the water. Walters is a native of Upland, California.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Alex Fairchild

Tread till you die - water survival advanced course

22 Jun 2021 | Lance Cpl. Alex Fairchild Marine Corps Installations Pacific

With fatigued eyes, soaked utilities and bated breath, three determined U.S. Marines and one Navy sailor stood with shaking legs at the edge of the pool preparing to jump into the water for one last swim before graduating the Water Survival Advanced course on Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, June 18.

WSA is the highest swim qualification Marines and sailors can obtain before moving onto the next echelon of becoming a Marine Corps Instructor of Water Survival. The week-long course kicks off with a water survival pre screening event, and the remainder of the course consists of numerous endurance swims, life-saving techniques and applications, physical and mental conditioning, and countless swimming drills to ensure students have the confidence to not only maintain themselves but others’ lives while in the water.

“Even for a former competitive swimmer like myself, this training was by far the hardest I have ever been through,” said Cpl. Benjamin Williams, a test, measurement and diagnostic equipment technician with 3rd Maintenance Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group. “It does not matter how strong you are or how good of a swimmer you think you are, you will be pushed to your limits once you start this course.”

Students in the course endured the intense training that added up to 50 hours in a single week. The majority of the swims required students to wear full utility uniforms with boots, simulating combat scenarios that make swimming long distances even more taxing.

“I have been a MCIWS instructor since April, and have facilitated numerous basic and intermediate swim qualifications, but instructing the WSA course has been an eye opening experience." Cpl. Joseph Censullo, electronics maintenance technician

“If I had to choose the hardest part of the course, it would be the multiple mile-long swims in full utilities,” said Williams, a native of Little Rock, Arkansas. “At a certain point, I had to let my mind wander and let my body do the work. After the first down-and-back, my whole body felt like it was on fire.”

Williams explained that he chose to undertake the WSA course to give him water survival experience as he begins to train to join the Marine Forces Special Operations Command. He said that he wants to continue to prove his capabilities as a noncommissioned officer and increase his knowledge and training experience.

The course is monitored and executed by two MCIWS instructors with a lead MCIWS instructor who creates the plan of the day and schedule for instruction. For Cpl. Joseph Censullo, an electronics maintenance technician and mechanic with 3rd Maintenance Battalion, 3rd MLG, it was a memorable first time instructing a WSA course.

“I have been a MCIWS instructor since April, and have facilitated numerous basic and intermediate swim qualifications, but instructing the WSA course has been an eye opening experience,” said Censullo, a native of Poughkeepsie, New York. “It was great to see the students work up to their full potential and conduct themselves not as individuals, but as a team.”

Censullo explained that if service members are interested in participating in the WSA course, they have to be intermediate swim qualified, and they should contact a MCIWS for information on joining the advanced course.

“Water is the great equalizer,” said Censullo. “This course is a big challenge for every single student, but we are willing to work with anyone who is willing to try to tackle it.”


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