Marine Combat Instructor Water Survival Swim Qualification Course

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US Navy

By Marine Lance Cpl. Erin F. McKnight

OKINAWA, Japan -- More than 20 Sailors and Marines earned their Marine Combat Instructor Water Survival (MCIWS) qualification at the Aquatic Center July 12-28.

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.

“It’s been told, and I fully believe, that [the MCIWS course]ranks in the top five of the most physically demanding courses in the Marine Corps,” Sisson said.

“The only easy day was ‘yesterday,’” agreed Lt. j.g. J.D. John, an MCWIS student and liaison officer for 3rd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment. “Every day just gets harder and harder.”

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.

Twenty-six students passed the pre-test and were admitted in the course, although not all of them completed the 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, according to Sisson.

On this day, the students are required to save a simulated frantic drowning victim who drags them underwater. 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 cardio respiratory resuscitation and rescue breathing, additional types of rescues for drowning victims and furthered the skills they learned during the first week of class. This 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, Sisson said.

“It shows them that if they use the fundamentals we teach, they can survive in the water, even if they’re tied up,” Sisson said.

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.

“My goal was to come out here so I could train Marines and Sailors to be fighters, so they could live to fight another day and then go back home to their families,” John said.