NEWS | Oct. 29, 2018

Sailors and Airmen plunge into swim qualification test

By Airman 1st Class Helena Owens Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Patrolling the nearby waterways and performing perimeter security for ships at anchor are critical to the Joint Base Charleston mission. Navy and Air Force security personnel work together to ensure these tasks are accomplished and training together plays a key role in their inter-service partnership.

The Sailors and Airmen who perform JB Charleston’s harbor patrol operations are required to hold a second-class swim qualification to ensure they are mission-ready and prepared for any situation. To be certified, service members must perform a 100-yard swim using the crawl stroke, breast stroke, side stroke and elementary backstroke. They must also execute a deep water jump, a five minute survival float and a transition to a back float before exiting the pool. This qualification is earned through the security office at the Naval Weapons Station and must be renewed every five years.

While such a skillset may not be unusual for Sailors, Airmen also take on this waterfront duty and must meet the same swim standards as their Navy counterparts.

Not only do Airmen participate in swim qualifications for boat duties, but in some cases, they teach it, helping members of all branches become qualified to work on and around the Lowcountry waterways. One example is Airman 1st Class Shanna McCarter, a patrolman assigned to the 628th Security Forces Squadron, who has a background in swimming and lifeguarding. She completed her qualification through the Red Cross.

“It is important for service members to perform the strokes correctly because it’s for survival,” said McCarter. “I’ve been teaching this for 11 years, and here in Charleston for one year. I have seen so many people panic and even begin to drown because they aren’t thinking, so teaching them and providing these qualifications is lifesaving.”

Sailors are required to pass the third-class swim qualification test to graduate basic training. The next step is the second-class qualification, which is an entry-level requirement for not only small-boat operators, but also for naval aircrew and rescue swimmers. Finally, the first-class swim test is required for certain naval duties, such as being a certified Navy swim instructor like McCarter.

The third-class swim qualification consists of a deep water jump, 50-yard swim using any stroke and a five minute prone float.

“As Air Force members we have to start from the very basics,” she said. “In our basic training they don’t require any of these qualifications, so we have to do all three qualifications through the Navy.”

The first-class qualification test consists of all the second-class swim requirements plus a 25-yard burning oil maneuver. This portion of the test recreates conditions that may not be safe for a swimmer to remain on the surface of the water for long, according to Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Bryan Mead, assigned to the 628th Security Forces Squadron Harbor Patrol Unit.

“When there is a fire on top of the water or other hazardous material, the burning oil maneuver teaches students how to clear a path to come up for air in an emergency situation,” he said.

Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Matt McClary, assigned to the Naval Power Training Unit security team, highlighted the importance of completing the Navy swim qualifications because they can be the difference between life and death in water.

“In my day to day job we protect assets that are on the water,” McClary said. “We are constantly roving up and down the piers carrying a lot of gear with us. If we do happen to fall overboard into the water, it is good to be able to know how to float and perform the basic strokes we are taught in this qualification.”