Swimming Helps ROTC
GREENSBORO-Not every employer requires you to jump off a 10-foot diving board, expect you to swim to safety, while blindfolded and holding a rubber rifle.
But that is precisely what the cadets enrolled in the North Carolina A&T Army ROTC must do in order to earn their commission. And they practice passing their Combat Water Survival Training test at the pool in Corbett Sports Center, under the watchful eyes of the A&T swimming team, who volunteer as lifeguards.
The Aggies have been serving as lifeguards and volunteering to assist with training sessions for the CWST for several years now.
"Coach has always been trying to find different ways to get us involved in the community and we've been helping out with them for quite a while," said swimming graduate assistant coach Gia Wright, who swam with the Aggies from 2004-08. "It's a good way to make a connection with people who are going to be involved with the future of our country. We've been helping them out a lot, and I think it makes the girls feel good about being helpful and contributing."
Swimming head coach Shawn Hendrix has been working with members of the university's Army ROTC program to help run a swimming skills test and provide swimming lessons for ROTC cadets since she joined the swimming program in 1998.
The ROTC had conducted its swimming lessons at the YMCA until Hendrix was approached by one of the ROTC sergeants.
"It's important to be able to train here at the pool by virtue of it's a required skill that we have to have in order to get commissioned," said Lt. Col. Donald Prioleau, who is the professor of military science at A&T.
The CWST test has four key events to help instruct cadets in survival skills. For the CWST, cadets must first swim in any style for 25 meters or one pool length; then they must perform an equipment swim. They are pushed into the water with their load-bearing equipment utility belt and a rubber rifle (which mimics the size and weight of a real M-16) and must swim with their equipment.
"You never know what kind of environment you'll find yourself in. [During the war] We've had people rollover into rivers while in vehicles, and they have to be confident in those situations in order to maintain their state of mind while they have all of their equipment on," Prioleau said. "Be able to stay calm, jettison their equipment and be able to get out."
Although it is not as stressful as combat situations, the event is designed to build confidence in situations where it necessary for a cadet to save their own lives with the ability to return to combat.
The third test is an equipment drop. Cadets are again pushed into the pool with their equipment. They must shed all of the equipment, resurface and swim to the edge. The final test is perhaps the most terrifying. They must jump 10 feet into pool blindfolded, with a hoodie around their heads, a rubber rifle in hand and swim to the edge. There is no usable diving board in Corbett Sports Center, therefore, the cadets practice by jumping from the starting boards.
"It's really not that hard," Lake said, adding that swimming is a life skill that everyone should have.
Cadets must also perform continuous swimming and water-treading skills for a set duration.
Having the Aggies on hand to lifeguard these training sessions is very important, Wright said, because not every cadet is a strong swimmer. Those who don't swim well experience anxiety when they're in the water, which may lead to drowning.
"That's the scary thing about it-they could actually die," Wright said.
Sophomore freestyler Akaela McGinty illustrates this point. For her, watching people practice water survival skills is nothing new. She is an Army Brat whose father served 27 years in the Army after serving in the U.S. Marine Crops for several years. Despite being familiar with watching military members practice water survival skills, McGinty said it was nerve-wracking to serve as a lifeguard with the rest of the A&T swimming team for the A&T Army ROTC CWST training sessions last year.
"They don't know how to swim," she said. "They think they can swim, but they can't. But the added clothing and shoes and everything that goes on top of that just makes it worse. Mainly a lot of the guys are trying to show off to each other. They try it, and it's like 'Oh no,' and we all freak out."
She said that during the training session, they split up the cadets into two groups, having the stronger swimmers practice in the deep end and the weaker swimmers in the shallow end. She added that there are ROTC instructors both inside and out of the pool assisting the cadets with perfecting their performance in the CWST events.
Some of the Aggie swimmers have tried out some of the CWST events themselves to get a feel for what the cadets experience, Wright said.
The A&T swimming team has also held swimming lessons to help prepare cadets who are not strong swimmers for the Combat Water Survival Training test. Hendrix said they average about 10 to 12 ROTC cadets in the practices, and about five or six students consistently show up to each lesson, which are held in the spring semester.
"We've had a 100 percent graduation rates in the past few years," Hendrix said. "It's been good. It's a way of giving back, and it's teaching someone survival skills, that could really save their life one day."
The A&T ROTC program values the support of the Athletics department.
"We're working on getting back with the swimming pool. We have done some training at the YMCA, but the goal is to get back here since it's so much closer to the battalion," Prioleau said. "I'd rather be able to do it here because it's more convenient, and part of the university system. I think we're all part of the same team."