MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
The smell of chlorine wafted in the air and splashing echoed against the walls of the pool house, but this was not a fun day at a water park for Marines competing for seats at an elite diving school.
Limited school seats and a large demand require only the best candidates to attend the Marine Combatant Diver Course. A two-week, pre-dive challenge serves only as the filter.
Three Marines with 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, were graded on their swimming techniques at the Courthouse Bay swimming pool and bay March 28 as part of a two-week evaluation course. All reconnaissance battalions accross the Marine Corps are assessing their best swimmers to compete for school seats in the diver course, ensuring the top-rated swimmers in the recon community are filling the seats.
The numerous tests challenged Marines' physical capabilities, to include Marines swimming laps with their hands and feet tied.
“This training equips us with the tools to excel in dive school,” said Sgt. Michael W. Elliot, a 2nd Reconnaissance Bn. Marine competing for a seat, with a confident grin. “I’m doing this so Marines can say, ‘Oh, all these guys are dive certified; we can send them on a dive insert.’ I’m doing this for my platoon. This gives us tools to complete different missions. It makes us more well-rounded reconnaissance Marines.”
These Marines took their complicated swimming techniques and perfected them into an art, gliding like sea lions through the water, seemingly effortless.
Marines treaded water while fitted with oxygen tanks, fins and goggles for their last pool exercise: treading water while manually blowing up a flotation device.
“We’re training more divers for the battalion to help the amphibious mission,” said Staff Sgt. Chris A. Flynn, a dive locker instructor with the battalion. “We’re also increasing the divers’ water confidence and skills that could possibly save their lives one day.”
However daunting the task, there was certified dive Marines on the watch, encouraging their every move with advice. Marines put on wet suits to challenge the chilly harbor water after completing their pool exercises. Before entering the water, Flynn gave them some straightforward advice before starting their test.
“Push yourself as hard as you can, and there shouldn’t be any problems,” said Flynn, an Irvine, Ky., native.
Two safety boats filled with dive certified Marines took to the sea to watch over the swimmers. Although the sun was out and temperatures were mild, a chilly breeze was a reminder that it wasn’t summer.
“The water’s cold,” said Sgt. Justin A. Kozlowski, a certified dive reconnaissance Marine with the battalion, as he touched the water outside the small motor boat.
Marines were armed with fins, snorkel, and compass and were told to swim approximately 1,000-yards to selected targets. The catch: their heads had to be submerged in the water, and they could only use their compasses for navigation.
Flynn explained the training is vigorous because of what will be required of them at the dive school. One of their most daunting exercises in the challenge will include an approximate 10,000-yard swim, very similar to what is done at the Marine Combatant Diver Course at the Navy Diving and Salvage Training Center, Panama City, Fla.
“Usually, you see a huge increase. They learn to control their bodies with less oxygen, learn to make precise movements, opposed to jerking motions,” Kozlowski said about Marines who attend the dive course. “Going through the training teaches them to be able to trust their bodies. Usually, in the beginning, they’re a little shaky. But later on in the week, they continue to get better. This is built to build confidence; you can’t be shaky in the water and put everyone’s life in jeopardy.”