FORT BLISS, Texas - In an effort to stay committed to their vow to save lives, the 24th Press Camp Headquarters underwent the Army Water Survival Training at the Replica Aquatic Center, April 11, using dummy rifles and personal issued Army gear.
Although swimming isn't part of the Army physical fitness prerequisites for enlistment of troops, public affairs troops often deploy to national disaster areas where water fatalities are common.
"This training is applicable, and as a commander, I would prefer the soldiers have the skills and never need them than need them, and not have them," said Lt. Col. Randy Taylor, commander of the 24th PCH.
As a commanding officer, Taylor's military career included water survival training in his basic officer course and for his infantry troops' pre-deployment training. Today, as part of the Joint Task Force-Civil Support rapid response force, the 24th PCH stands ready to be called upon to support citizens in life-threatening situations. Water survival training is one of many tools used to ensure soldiers are conditioned to save lives on and off land.
"I'm looking for (soldiers) to feel comfortable being in any situation and surviving," said Sgt. 1st Class Eliodoro Molina, the primary trainer.
Dressed in the Army combat uniform, troops practiced techniques in chest-deep water such as: The buoyancy test, travel stroke sequence and a treading water technique. The hour session also included individual training in up to eight feet of water on creating a waterproofed rucksack, travel stroke with a weapon, trouser-inflated float and top-inflated float.
"I see (swimming) as a necessary skill for all troops who work to defend the nation," said Abraham Celaya, lifeguard for Fort Bliss Sports, Fitness and Aquatics. "Soldiers never know when water safety skills will help save a life."
According to Celaya ACU floats can potentially float for approximately 15 minutes, whereas using the trouser float method, someone can stay afloat for more than one hour. Troops learned to successfully waterproof the rucksack and calmly stay afloat. When waterproofed, rucksacks have potential to keep even the largest combat equipped Soldier afloat for days.
"Even if you're a non-swimmer you can stay afloat and alive. If you relax, you will float ... but relaxing can be the hard part," said Sgt. Aaron Palmer, broadcast journalist, who was surprised a rucksack would create a sufficient flotation device.
With little swimming experience, Sgt. Betty Y. Boomer, photojournalist, built trust and confidence in her military equipment and fellow troops as she overcame her fear of drowning.
"Getting over the fear of the water was the hardest part of the training for me," said Boomer who admitted that the overall training was not hard after she successfully floated in seven feet of water using only her ACU top."
Soldiers gaining advanced training will be able to survive longer with or without the use of gear if ever submerged in water.
"I think a lot of people faced their fears. Part of survival is facing your fears and getting though tough experiences," said Molina. "The main focus of training was (staying afloat). If they ever have a water emergency they can use the tools issued by the Army for survival."
Celaya, with more than four years of experience as a water safety instructor, encourages troops to attend the swim lessons to overcome the fear of being submerged in water or want to become a stronger swimmer. Free swim lessons are available for active-duty soldiers from 9 to 10 a.m., each Monday, Wednesday and Saturday at the Replica Aquatic Center. Evening classes are from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays.