Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers Train Pilots

FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - Strapped to a seat in a metal roll cage half submerged in water, the pilots of 6th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment were rolled upside down, with only their feet protruding from the water over and over again. One by one each Soldier was subjected to this bizarre treatment at the Melaven pool on Fort Wainwright, May 13-16, 2014.

But this was no enemy torture treatment; this was Army overwater training used to save lives.

Nearly 80 OH-58 Kiowa Warrior pilots with 6-17 CAV received a refresher course in overwater survival and egress training from U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmers based at USCG Station Kodiak. 

“The water egress is a requirement for all aviators,” said Maj. Luke Mercier, 6-17 CAV operations officer. “Its primary purpose is to get the pilots comfortable with knowing what to do in case of an emergency that causes [them] to go down in the water.”

“This training helps people keep their wits about them and know the steps to get out of the aircraft safely,” he added. 

Each day consisted of classroom instruction followed by hands on training that began with a survival swim test. The test required pilots to swim a lap in the pool, tread water while inflating a personal life vest, and then enter a compact raft that is part of the gear each soldier wears while conducting overwater operations. 

After the swim test, the pilots moved to the Shallow Water Egress Trainer, a metal roll cage with a seat designed to simulate a downed helicopter in an overwater situation. 

The crewmembers were buckled in just as they would be in the aircraft, and then rolled to an upside-down position by their Coast Guard instructors. The Soldiers advanced through several levels of difficulty in order to build their level of confidence and experience to safely escape a submerged aircraft.

“Every pilot has to do some type of SWET [shallow water egress trainer] or dunker evacuation training when they go through flight school, but it’s been a long time for a lot of people here,” said Capt. Cooper Barber, a pilot with 6-17 CAV. 

The Soldiers learned to trust their equipment and got more accustomed to breathing underwater with the Survival Egress Air, a mini version of a scuba tank designed to provide crewmembers an emergency source of air.

“Well, you do get some water up your nose,” said Capt. Cooper Barber, a pilot with 6-17CAV. “But [the SEA] work really well, just like a scuba regulator.” 

“Its good training and it’s a lot of fun,” he added.

The 6-17 CAV plan to have all their crewmembers prequalified on the water egress training prior to their upcoming deployment to South Korea.

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