Story By: Lance Cpl. Ryan Joyner
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - Ditching, ditching, ditching! The moment those wings hit the water, brace yourself you’re going under. Water rushes up your nose and oxygen seeps away every second until you are submerged into total darkness. The fear may be too much for some, but for the Marines and Sailors of Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa 13.3, preparation is key.
SP-MAGTF Africa 13.3 recently completed a water egress trainer course at the Water Survival Training Facility here June 3-4 to ensure personal safety for their upcoming deployment to Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, this summer.
The “Helo Dunker” is a life-saving course that provides individuals with the confidence and knowledge to successfully and safely egress out of a helicopter that suffered a controlled landing.
“It was great training on something that is not really brought up when flying, but could save our lives if there ever was a situation that a helicopter went down over water,” said Sgt. Eric Edwards, a SP-MAGTF Africa 13.3 combat engineer and a Chester, Va., native.
The training is coordinated by a team of expert divers. The experience they imparted created a well-rounded course that will better prepare the trainees for real life situations.
“It’s not a matter of ‘if’, it’s a matter of ‘when’,” said Glenn LaMarque an Under Water Training Instructor. “Accidents will happen and you must be ready for when they do.”
During the course, the Marines and Sailors learned about the proper techniques for a braced landing, how to utilize the emergency breathing device, and how to egress using the various emergency exits commonly found on helicopters.
The Marines went through the dunker simulator five times, each time increasing the amount of equipment worn. They started out with no equipment and the use of their own lungs, then increased in difficulty to the use of a rifle, tactical vests, blacked out goggles and an emergency breathing device. The ability to conduct the exercise without sight builds muscle memory.
The training provided is the safest and closest way of simulating an actual incident without actually crashing a helicopter, said Robert Pitchford, WSTF site manager.
The staff was on stand-by ensuring the safety of each Marine and Sailor. At any moment if the trainee wanted to cease training, they were pulled out immediately, but sent right back in once more comfortable with the procedure. No one would leave untrained.
“It was a great confidence builder,” said Cpl. William Shields, a combat engineer and an Atlantic, Va., native. “We had the preconceived notion that if we went down, we would not survive. However, now we have the knowledge of the egress options and familiarization with the gear to save our lives if we were ever in that situation.”
During their upcoming deployment SP-MAGTF Africa 13.3 will conduct theater security cooperation, military-to-military engagements and provide support to crisis response if needed. With their new found training, they are now more prepared to face difficult situations.