Fort McCoy News August 08, 2014

Iowa Soldiers conduct combat water-survival training

STORY & PHOTO BY STAFF SGT. CHAD NELSON
135th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Soldiers often find themselves in difficult situations that challenge their mettle. Everything from taking enemy fire to a choppy helicopter ride can challenge even the most-hardened Soldier.

Photo for Iowa article
Sgt. Nathan Elwood from Stanton, Iowa, a truck driver
with 2168th Transportation Company, leaps, blindfolded
and with a rifle, into the deep end of the Rumpel Fitness
Center swimming pool during combat water-survival training.

However, Soldiers are taught during basic training to face fears, to draw on personal courage and to rely on battle buddies to overcome challenges and succeed in the mission.

Training fades over time, though, so the Army constantly retrains Soldiers on critical individual tasks.

These training exercises focus on personal courage, teamwork and preventing the reoccurrence of past mistakes.

The 2168th Transportation Company (TC), Iowa Army National Guard, focused on all three of these attributes at Fort McCoy during their 15-day annual training in July. Combat water-survival training was one element of the exercise.

The Army learned many lessons over the course of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. One such lesson was Soldiers were ill-prepared for survival if vehicles drove into a lake, river or canal.

"Soldiers would crash into a (body of water) and not be able to get their equipment off quickly enough," said 1st Lt. Joshua Sprague of Johnston, Iowa, the platoon leader for Detachment 1, 2168th TC.

Part of the combat water-survival training involved Soldiers jumping into the deep end of Fort McCoy's Rumpel Fitness Center pool with load-bearing equipment and a weighted, rubber M-16. Once under the water, the Soldiers had to remove their equipment and reach the surface.

The survival training also consisted of Soldiers swimming 25 yards while keeping the muzzle of the rifle above water, plunging into the deep end of the swimming pool while blindfolded and holding the training weapon, and practicing how to use the Army Combat Uniform as a flotation device.

Some Soldiers didn't know how to swim very well.

"I hate swimming. I like to relax in the water, but I am not a swimmer," said Pfc. Devon Anderson of Clarion, Iowa, and a truck driver with 2168th TC.

Regardless, Anderson faced his fears and plunged into the water over and over again, confident his team would be there if he needed help.

"With a little bit of encouragement from people in my unit, it helped out a lot, and I decided I needed to give it a try whether I liked it or not. They encouraged me to do it, and I knew I had someone there to catch me if I needed it when I jumped in," Anderson said.

This focus on teamwork and overcoming fears was the hope of the 2168th's leadership.

"Everything is about Soldiers facing their fears. It's building confidence and team camaraderie," Sprague said.

According to Sprague, the best way to build confidence in a Soldier and help them overcome their fears is to focus on building team mentality.

"Conquering your fears is a great team-building atmosphere. There are a lot of scary things you have to face as a Soldier. If we know we can face them together, we know we can accomplish the mission."

That mentality of overcoming fear through teamwork was proven over and over again in the pool during the course of the training.

"I heard a lot of Soldiers stepping up and telling Soldiers who wanted to walk away and skip the obstacle say, 'No, you can do this, we've got you. I'll jump in the water with you,'" Sprague said.