By Cheryl Rodewig, The BayonetAugust 27, 2009
FORT BENNING, GA - Less than a year ago, 2LT Robert Welch felt unsafe entering water more than six feet deep. Now, he can swim comfortably and with confidence, thanks to swimming lessons at the Briant Wells pool, part of Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Aquatics.
After arriving on post last year to earn his commission through the Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course, Welch heard about free adult swimming lessons held Tuesdays and Thursdays at Briant Wells.
"It's a skill I needed - and you can't beat free," said Welch, who attended the biweekly lessons, as his training schedule allowed, since September.
"I basically knew just one stroke and was pretty weak at it, and I didn't really have the confidence to get in the water by myself, so that's where I started out," he said. "Now, I'm proficient on one stroke and I'm OK with two other strokes. I went from not going in the deep end to being able to swim or even dive into the deep end by myself."
Welch started the lessons to prepare for the combat water survival assessment, a requirement for students on the first day of Ranger School, Welch's next assignment. The assessment includes a rope drop from 30 feet into Victory Pond and a 15-meter swim.
"You just have to know how to swim. You never know when you're going to need that skill," Welch said. "You might be thrown into a situation where you're in a river crossing, and the last thing you want to do as a leader is not be able to help someone or even help yourself if something goes awry."
DFMWR Aquatics revitalized the swim lessons recently, focusing on keeping them on a regular schedule, after several Soldiers showed an interest, said Ken Wetherill, sports, fitness and aquatics director.
"It was a Soldier who came to one of the lifeguards and said, 'I have to pass CWSA, and my training is next week, and I cannot swim my way out of a plastic bag,'" said Katelyn McConnell, water safety instructor and pool operator. "More and more Soldiers kept coming up to lifeguards and saying, 'Hey, I've got training next week.' 'I have to go to Ranger School.' 'What's the best stroke to use'' Lifeguards were getting bombarded with questions."
That's when DFMWR decided to make free adult swim lessons available to military ID cardholders. Since July, classes have become regular, with forty-five minute lessons led by Red Cross certified lifeguards at 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday.
With dedication and regular attendance, swimmers may see exponential improvements, said McConnell, who worked with Welch for about six months.
"When I first started teaching him, he was terrified of the water," McConnell said, "and now, he's comfortable swimming."
Welch isn't alone, McConnell said. Many adults either don't know how to swim or aren't comfortable in deep water.
"I've worked with a lot of people who are embarrassed about being scared of the water. Some of them don't want to risk taking their kids because they don't feel like their swimming skills are good enough to make a save if they have to," she said.
"I think their embarrassment comes from letting their fear grow for too long. There's nothing to be worried about. Our lifeguards will always be able to make a rescue or an assist if there is one needed."
The instructors can work with all levels of swimmers, McConnell said, whether that's teaching them how to stay afloat or how to execute a backstroke or high dive.
A competitive swimmer, McConnell plans to start an adult swim club by the end of the year. She hopes the club will form a foundation for an eventual postwide swim team, she said.
For more information about the club or the free swim lessons, e-mail email@example.com.