by DeJanay Booth
Photo By: Josh Newell
Cadets in Regiment Four of the Leader Training Course (LTC) walked in and sat on the bleachers. Several wore a red wristband on their uniform indicating that they were weak swimmers. Lifeguards were instructed to keep an eye out for them. From their seats, the Cadets watched carefully as two demonstrators stood up and walked from one side of the pool to the other.
The demonstrators were hosed down from head to toe and sat on the edge of the pool, dipping their feet in the water. On command, they pushed their bodies into the water and swam across, fully clothed.
On the other side, they got out of pool and grabbed a vest full of equipment and a rifle. They then eased into the water before grabbing their gun and swimming again, maintaining control over the rifle.
At the next station, Cadets watched closely as the demonstrators grabbed their equipment and walk toward the diving board. One demonstrator handed his rifle to the lifeguard on the diving board before climbing up. The lifeguard handed handed it back and walked him to the end of the board. Placing a blindfold, the lifeguard stepped back to give instructions.
“At this time you can take a step forward into the water. Go,” he said.
Cadets watched in silence as the demonstrator locked his arms in a 90-degree angle, holding the weapon straight. The water dripping from his uniform into the pool was the only sound heard before he leaped from the board, three meters high. His body remained in a straight position as his feet hit the water first. The second soldier follow suit. Getting out of the pools, the demonstrators went to last lane.
Immediately, they were attached to a harness and instructed to get in the pool and go underwater. Resurfacing, they should have been able to get out of the water without the vest or gun, having them attached to the lifeline.
“Does anyone have any questions?” the lifeguard asked the Cadets. Their silence answered for them. In sections, cadets stood up and walked in a clockwise path to the other side to be hosed down. The water splashed in their faces, causing them to shut their eyes tight and scrunch their noses.
With their uniforms soaked, they walked to the first station. The first three Cadets slid in the water and remained still until they were told to swim.
Staff Sgt. Raymond Johnson, the senior lifeguard of Combat Water Survival Training (CWST), said the training is “an endurance builder.”
“There is always the very real possibility that while a soldier is conducting any type of operation, they could find themselves in the water with their full gear on,” Johnson said. “Any point in time a soldier needs to be in the water, they need to know how to control themselves in the water, how to move through it and still manage all of their equipment.”
At each station, a lifeguard gave the Cadets a wristband, implying that they had completed the task. Those who successfully completed the four stations, were given an orange wristband. Johnson said the Cadets were then allowed to participate in the second portion of the training, which is a 15-minute swimming diagnostic test.
Cadet Raul Cepeda, an upcoming freshman at Georgia Military College in Milledgeville, was the first person to complete CWST in Alpha Company. Raul said he underestimated portions of the training.
“I didn’t expect the ACUs to weigh as much as they did,” Cepeda said. “But I like the water, so I tried to have fun with it.”
Cadet Matthew White, the first Cadet to finish in Bravo Company, said he paid attention to the instructions and did what he was told.
“It was pretty challenging but you just have to remember what they told you to do and you have to go through it,” said White, an upcoming freshman at New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell. “If I can do it, anyone can do it.”
Not everyone was so confident, but those with apprehension didn’t face it alone. One Cadet slowly stepped on the diving board. She moved cautiously, guided by the lifeguard. He stopped her before placing the blindfold over her face. Cheers from her fellow comrades broke out in the pool area, building up, and then fading. They watched as she took a deep breath before taking a giant step off the board, landing in the water. The cheers returned to its level of intensity, letting the Cadet know that she had their support.
Maj. Steven Devitt, the officer in charge of CWST, said the training is a requirement for the officer candidates to attend Leader Development and Assessment Course (LDAC); however, they are given more than one chance to complete it.
“If they fail or don’t attempt the training and get a no-go, they’ll have the opportunity, when they go back to their university, college or ROTC detachment, to train up on this and then take the test there,” Devitt said. “This isn’t the end for them.”