Photo Information

Lance Cpl. Charles Melber, an armory custodian with 9th Communication Battalion, I Marine Expeditionary Force, swims while wearing a full pack during swim qualification at Camp Pendleton, Calif., April 4. The swimming qualification is a required annual training for Marines. Melber, 19, is from Pensacola, Fla.

Photo by Cpl. Joshua Young

Every Marine a qualified swimmer

8 Apr 2013 | Cpl. Joshua Young

All Marines are required to complete swim qualification for annual training. The qualification tests a Marine’s ability to survive in the water with a combat load, in uniform.

Marines have jobs ranging from infantry to intelligence and amphibious assault vehicle operators to administration specialists. Some jobs put Marines in aquatic situations during training or deployments, and they must be trained and prepared for those situations. So, why does every Marine need to qualify for swimming?

“It’s part of the title, ‘Marine,’” said Sgt. John Franzen, the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the 43 Area Training Tank. “We’re focused on amphibious warfighting. It always goes back to ‘every Marine a rifleman.’ In order to be a rifleman you need to know how to swim. If you’re an admin guy and you’re told you’re up, you need to know what you’re doing.”

To be a Marine suggests having a relationship with the water. To the swimming instructors at the 43-Area Training Tank, this couldn’t be more true.

“We have an amphibious history,” said Sgt. Nathan Scheeler, 28, from Corvallis, Ore., and a Marine Corps instructor of water survival. “It’s something that’s been with us for a very long time.”

There are several situations where even the most unlikely Marine will need to be able to survive in water. Some of these scenarios include aircraft, vehicles or ships malfunctioning over bodies of water.

“We transport over water,” said Franzen, 26, from California, Ky. “If a ship goes down, that puts you in the water. We want Marines to survive and have them help other people to survive.”

Swim qualification has more benefits than just testing the ability for Marines to survive in water. Swimming can be used as a method of exercise or as a way to build confidence.

“It’s very rewarding to see the weaker swimmers and see their confidence grow before they leave as stronger swimmers,” Franzen said. “Swimming is also one of the best ways to work out. It’s definitely a good thing professionally and personally.”

The swimming qualification has undergone several changes over the past few years. Some of the changes include Marines wearing their boots and uniform throughout the qualification and a gear shed, where the Marine must stand in the water in full tactical gear with a rifle and must shed the gear underwater in less than ten seconds. The qualification continues to adapt to provide Marines with the most realistic training possible to prepare them in case they ever find themselves in a situation where they need it.

As the Marine Corps transitions to amphibious training for overseas operations and training exercises, swim qualification will become more relevant.

“In order to do a beach landing or anything like that, whether you’re attacking the beach or coming off the beach to support, you’re going to have to know how to swim,” Franzen said.