FORT BRAGG, NC (SGT Daniel Carter) -Being a self-taught swimmer, I thought that maybe doing some water training would be a cool experience. Last week at Tucker Gym, Soldiers from U.S. Army Special Operations Command were conducting Combat Water Survival Training and Wet Silk Training in preparation for a water jump coming up at the end of April.
I originally showed up wanting to take some photos of the event and then head back to the office once I had what I needed to write a story. But once I showed up, I was asked if I wanted to participate and I thought to myself, “Sure why not, how hard could it be?”
After some questioning, I found out what the actual training entailed before I was in over my head.
“The purpose of [the] training is to ensure people have adequate swimming ability, are comfortable in the water, and so that they can participate in water jumps,” explained Sgt. 1st Class Michael Donahue, the Airborne Operations Noncommissioned Officer in Charge for Headquarters and Headquarters Company.
“The training is broken up into two parts, the combat water survival training event and the actual wet silk event,” explained Donahue. “The CWST event ensures that the Soldier can swim. The wet silk event, in my opinion is actually the best part of the training and the thing that they are taking away from it.”
While water jumps are not your everyday jump here on Fort Bragg, in USASOC they are just another type of airborne operation that lets Soldiers have fun and build confidence on the drop zone.
After hearing Donahue’s explanation, I changed into a uniform that the gym provides for water training and jumped in.
As soon as I jumped in, I had to start treading water for two minutes. Once I hit the two minute mark, I was told to start swimming to the end of the pool and back without stopping. This was the hardest part for me, because I only know one stroke: keep my head above water, move arms and legs, and swim as fast as I can to get it over with.
This was obviously the wrong answer.
All the while I was swimming, in a uniform and boots, I was being told to side stroke or back stroke because at the rate I was going I wasn’t going to make it. Did I hear them over my flailing, gasping and splashing? Nope.
I got to the end and turned around. I was breathing heavy and I only made it half way back. I reached the end of my line, and finally my muscles and lungs were screaming at me.
I am not a very strong swimmer, as you may have guessed from my single stroke ability, but with the support of the officers and NCOs, I pushed myself back into the water and continued to swim back to where I started. After I was helped out of the pool, exhausted and breathless, Staff Sgt. Shawn Donahue (no relation to Michael Donahue), the USASOC commanding general’s driver, came over and gave me a quick after action review of what I did wrong and how I can improve on my swimming ability. He suggested I work on my side stroke and back stroke because they would help me swim for longer periods with less effort.
Once everyone made sure I was ready to continue, I moved on to the wet silk portion of the training.
“When you are swimming under a wet parachute, it sticks to your face and your body, and it is a very uncomfortable feeling,” said Sgt. 1st Class Donahue, “It’s very uncomfortable if you have never done it before, so this part of the training introduces Soldiers to that feeling and teaches them to be more comfortable if a parachute lands on them during a jump.”
I moved over to the wet silk lane of the pool and donned an MC-6 parachute harness and prepared myself to jump in the water again. While I was donning the harness, I may or may not have heard all the steps in the instructions, like what to do when I got out of my harness.
Being a Paratrooper, I remembered how I was supposed to react when I knew I was going to land in a body of water. I jumped in, releasing the quick release snaps on my leg straps and threw my arms up as I hit the water.
I got out of the harness and tried heading to an air bubble in the parachute without coming back up for air.
That was a bad idea.
I came up in the parachute in front of the bubble and it stuck to my face. It was exactly how Donahue explained it, very uncomfortable. I pushed myself out of the parachute, regained my composure, and continued with the event.
I went under, found my air bubble, swam to the apex of the parachute, getting a breath at each spot, and then continued swimming under and out the other side of the parachute. Once I was done, I got out of the pool with a new found respect.
Working in USASOC, I know that there are Special Forces combat divers and this is probably not even two percent of what they have gone through. As a weak swimmer, being coached by all of the USASOC Soldiers there helped me complete the event and gain some confidence in the water.
I pushed myself a little further than I ever have before in the water and I even gained a little respect for myself.