Army Aviation

Nonrated Crewmember Water Survival Training

128th Aviation Brigade / By CPT James A. Gleason: After completing Basic Combat Training, Active Duty, National Guard, and Reserve Component Soldiers are assigned to the 128th Aviation Brigade for training in a wide range of Aviation Military Occupational Specialties.

A Foxtrot Company Soldier demonstrates the proper trouser flotation technique. / 128th AVN BDE PHOTO BY 1SG MELISSA K. WHITE

The 17 week 15U10 course provides Chinook helicopter maintainers with classroom instruction and valuable hands-on experience with the Army’s largest rotary wing aircraft. Upon successful completion of the course, some of these Soldiers will be assigned to maintenance units while others will have the opportunity to serve as Chinook crewmembers.

Prior to ever laying hands on flight controls, Army pilots undergo mandatory water survival training. They conduct a swim test in flight gear, acclimate to breathing underwater with supplemental oxygen, and take part in Helicopter Overwater Survival Training where they learn to egress from an aircraft in the event of an emergency water landing. Pilots complete their training with a firm understanding of how to react to a downed aircraft scenario. For nonrated crewmembers, however, this same training is often an afterthought. Unless serving in an elusive Army billet on the coast, enlisted crewmembers will rarely have the opportunity to take part in water survival training.

Foxtrot Company, 1st Battalion, 222d Aviation Regiment is responsible for the welfare and training of all Chinook maintainers who pass through Joint Base Langley-Eustis for the 15U10 course. The company noncommissioned officers (NCOs) have recognized and addressed this water safety issue by implementing a survival swimming course into their training schedule. While they do not have the facilities or aquatic simulators to teach aircraft egress procedures, these NCOs use the on-post fitness center’s swimming pool to focus their training on the skills that maximize the chance of Soldier survival upon entering a body of water: low-level stride entry into the water, efficient treading of water, and flotation of the Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP) blouse and trousers. It is not enough to simply know how to swim or tread water. Soldiers are often surprised to discover how difficult it is to tread water in the OCP uniform and boots alone. The addition of a flight helmet, vest, survival radio, weapons, and the chaos of a downed aircraft event only makes staying afloat more difficult.

The training begins with the NCOs demonstrating how to most efficiently enter the water; with arms extended out to the side and stepping off with a large stride. Upon entering the water, the legs perform a scissor action and arms sweep together until hands meet. This keeps the head above water and prevents the body from sinking. From here, the Soldiers must show proficiency in treading water for two minutes. The NCOs demonstrate the scissor and breaststroke kicks along with broad sculling movements with the hands to produce enough thrust to keep the head above water. Slow, controlled breathing and deliberate, efficient motions are necessary at this stage to ensure the aviator does not panic or expend unnecessary energy. The Soldiers transition to the final stage of training by removing the OCP trousers and experimenting with several different methods of inflating the blouse and trousers. Blouses can retain air if the Soldier simply exhales down into the blouse and seals the collar around his or her neck. The trouser legs are then tied off and used to capture air by either exhaling into the waist opening while underwater or by whipping the trousers overhead down towards the water, capturing air within the trouser legs in the process. If done correctly, the Soldier will be able to float and keep his or her head above water without actively thrusting to stay afloat. In an aircraft accident, the downed aircrew will likely have no idea of how long they may be isolated so the desired end state of this training is to keep crewmembers afloat for as long as possible while expending the least amount of energy.

Due to the unpredictability of global conflicts, water survival skills will always be vital for rated and nonrated crewmembers alike. In the end, the goal of this training is to keep aircrews safe regardless of where they are forced to set their aircraft down. The 128th has continuously strived to provide deploying aviation brigades with highly proficient aircrews capable of contributing to their gaining units and the training provided by Foxtrot Company solidifies this mission.

CPT James A. Gleeson is the commander, Foxtrot Company, 1st Battalion, 222d Aviation Regiment, 128th Aviation Brigade at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, VA.