Thursday, May 5, 2011

THE MAKING OF A MARINE: "IRON DUCKS"


The Marines refer to a non-swimmer as an "iron duck." Walking into the Parris Island swim facility, you could hear a pin drop, except for the clarion orders of the Marine in charge and the short, affirmative responses of the Marines beneath him. Marine swim gear in this facility consists of khaki swim shorts and a sleeveless blouse (Marine green on one side and white on the other). 

East of the Mississippi, Parris' Island's swimming pool is second in size only to Atlanta's Olympic pool and built by the same contractor. The pool graduates in depth in at least six different places from shallow to about 10 feet (or more. I didn't think to count. I was paying attention to orders). The water level was literally flush with the top of the pool at every depth, not a centimeter less, not a centimeter more.

They had us walk to the extreme end of the pool, take a sharp turn to the right and file to a standing position in front of the bleachers in successive rows, heels against the concrete seats. The Marine in charge had legs so defined you could see the striations of his muscles. The other four Marines who assisted him were jacked with bodybuilder builds and expressionless faces.

The Marine briefed us on pool safety, and like every Marine squadron I have visited thus far, he emphasized accountability: the importance of call (orders) and response (confirmations) in the execution of every action. The Marines have this sort of protocol for everything. Even a drowning Marine has protocol he has to follow. And he has to follow it. No exception.

The Marines have thought about everything. The Marine in charge showed us how to use military-issued pants as a flotation device, and he showed us three ways to inflate them (He also showed us how to use a military blouse as a flotation device, too). His Marines illustrated the basic strokes every Marine has to master in order to pass the course.

They have changed the swim program based upon the needs of Marines in the war this past decade. Evidently, they have experienced many fatalities in water-related situations where a vehicle rolls over and Marines drown or where Marines, having to be in water for an extended period of time in combat situations, become distressed and drown. 

All Marines who pass the course must swim with boots on. That is the new rule. They must also learn to tread water with rifle, vest, and kevlar helmet on. They also learn to systematically get rid of them while treading water. What I find amazing is that the Marines get kids to swim within one week (two at the most), even if they've never seen a swimming pool. 

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