News: Marines qualify as scout swimmers during course
Story by Lance Cpl. Erik Brooks
OKINAWA, Japan - Waves wash their barely visible bodies ashore from the cold ocean water. Covered in sand, they slip off their fins and slowly crawl up the beach unnoticed.
With all areas covered by fire, the beach is secured and they signal back to the boats that it is clear to land.
Marines with 3rd Radio Battalion and 3rd Intelligence Battalion completed the scout swimmers course at Kin Blue Training Area April 23 through May 11.
The three-week course certified the Marines as scout swimmers, a requirement for a boat landing team. Both battalions are part of III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III MEF.
“The course is designed to test Marines both mentally and physically in all aspects of swimming,” said Sgt. Daniel J. Wiechmann, an instructor with Special Operations Training Group, III MEF Headquarters Group. “When the students complete the course, they will be able to perform any mission for which a scout swimmer would be needed.”
The first week of the course consisted of intense pool workouts.
The participants swam laps while wearing only physical training clothes, said Wiechmann. Gradually, they moved to the combat utility uniforms, and then progressed to full-combat loads. Each time more weight was added, the difficulty of the exercises increased.
After the weeklong pool portion of the class, the instruction was moved to the ocean to begin the final stages.
“The instructions (given to us) during the first phase translated directly from the pool to the ocean,” said Staff Sgt. Alex Long, a student in the course. “When we got into the ocean everything we were taught clicked.”
The students learned how to operate using different methods of entry and egress from the beach, said Wiechmann.
One of the lessons taught during this phase was broaching and righting. Broaching is the process of flipping a capsized combat rubber raiding craft. Righting is using the craft’s paddles to steer it in the correct direction. The craft is used by boat teams in the Marine Corps for quick and stealthy insertion.
“To flip the craft over, the Marines grab a line, which is tied to the side of the boat, then proceed to pull and lean back until it is upright,” said Gunnery Sgt. Joshua P. Turner, an SOTG instructor. “The students learned this in case the craft flips during an operation, and they need to turn it over and continue the mission.”
After the lessons on broaching and righting, the students learned how to perform clandestine landings on the beach.
Clandestine landing is inserting Marines on shore in secrecy before the rear personnel arrive, said Wiechmann. When executing a clandestine landing, scout swimmers off-load from boats hundreds of yards from the shore and swim toward the shore using only their combat gear and flippers.
“The whole purpose of clandestine landing is the elements of surprise and stealth,” said Turner. “The Marine Corps uses this to conduct raids on enemy personnel who are located near the shore.”
When just outside the shoreline, the swimmers would then use a technique called “washing up” to make it to the beach by letting the natural effect of the waves wash them ashore.
“This technique allows us to blend in with the water so we do not blow our cover,” said Long. “We must have the element of surprise when conducting a raid.”
After making it ashore, the Marines slowly advanced toward their objective.
“They quietly moved up the beach and set a 180-degree security,” said Wiechmann. “(In actual operations), the follow-up forces can start to land on the beach after it has been secured.”
In addition to clandestine landing, students learned how to land on urban structures like piers and docks, said Wiechmann.
The final lesson of the course was helicopter casting.
“Helicopter casting is (inserting) in the water by helicopter,” said Turner. “The Marines jumped from helicopters then proceeded to wash ashore.”
The final test to pass the course was a 2,000-meter swim from the ocean to the shore using only fins.
“The reason for the final swim is to make sure we can physically make it from the boats to the shore in a real-life operation,” said Long.
With all lessons completed and classes passed, the students were qualified as scout swimmers.
“This course taught us how to be the first ones on the beach,” said Long. “To be the first ones in on a raid should be any Marine’s desire.”