Behind the goggles at BLORA
May 28, 2014
FORT HOOD, Texas --A cartoon sun smiles from yellow signs leading the way along North Nolan Road to a Central Texas summertime hangout, Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area. The major attraction at this oasis of fun is the lake itself, featuring a sandy authorized swimming area, Sierra Beach.
In order to provide Soldiers, Families and the community surrounding Fort Hood with a safe place to swim and cool off from May to October, around 30 Soldiers assigned to the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team "Ironhorse," 1st Cavalry Division, are standing watch over Sierra Beach's shore for the summer of 2014.
Lifeguarding is tasked to Fort Hood units instead of hiring civilians, and responsibility of BLORA's beach rotates between units every year.
Ironhorse Soldiers took charge of the lake as lifeguards, completing the American Red Cross lifeguard certification with an additional certification specific to deep water or lakefront environments.
"It's not a vacation," said Sgt. 1st Class Bryan Cook, the noncommissioned officer in charge BLORA lifeguards, assigned to Company B of the 91st Brigade Engineer Battalion "Saber," of the Ironhorse Brigade. "There are opening and closing procedures to make sure everything is ready to provide this service for Soldiers and their Families. It's important that Soldiers and their Families are provided with these recreational opportunities. We're helping make that happen."
Spc. Rodolfo Echeverria, a combat medic assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the of the 91st Brigade Engineer Battalion "Saber," of the Ironhorse Brigade, said he has always loved the water and enjoys being a lifeguard at the lake, but the job at hand is serious.
"The hardest part (of training) was probably the deep water back boarding," said Echeverria, a native of Orange County, California. "It's as if a patient suffered a spinal injury in the water and you have to go in there and put them on a backboard while in the water. It's a pretty tough task."
"When you're talking about the deep water spinal rescue, that's a pretty labor intensive task," added Cook, a native of Mountain Home, Arkansas. "That requires the lifeguards to speak with each other and communicate while performing the task, and it's a life saving measure for that victim."
Cook said the increased communication skills and responsibilities learned during this unique task help younger Soldiers with professional development.
"The skills (Soldiers) learn here translate when they go back to their units," Cook said.
Due to responsibility of lifeguarding, Ironhorse lifeguards were selected based on merit, physical capabilities and their unit's availability to provide Soldiers amidst current operations and training missions.
"Fit soldiers who can do great things on land in their (physical training) test, (don't) translate well into the water sometimes," said Sgt. Christopher Mamaux, an infantryman assigned to the 2nd Squadron "Sabre," 3rd Cavalry Regiment "Brave Rifles. "The initial prerequisite test we have flushes about 60 to 70 percent of those Soldiers out."
Mamaux, a native of Leavenworth, Kansas became a lifeguard instructor and combat water survival training instructor last summer. He now oversees recurrent, or "in-service," training and administers a 500m swim test to lifeguards every two weeks.
"They're supposed to swim it every day to keep their proficiency and overall lung capacity up, then when we come around for in-service training we time them," Mamaux said. "(The) time standard is 15 minutes per lifeguard. It's basically a PT test for us."
The in-service training reviews cardiopulmonary resuscitation, rescue equipment and water rescue skills to ensure the lifeguards maintain proficiency and maintain capabilities learned and studied in the course.
"It keeps them in shape, it keeps them honest and it keeps them sustaining the skills they need to swim out in the currents (and) pools, to dive deep to rescue whatever victims they may have," Mamaux said.