CAMP HANSEN, Japan --
CAMP HANSEN, Japan – First Lieutenant Nara Shunsaku and his men have nowhere to go, trapped and surrounded by water with their time running out. They each take a deep breath and, in an instant, are upside down, submerged. Water begins to fill up their noses and burn their sinuses but they react quickly and escape thanks to their practice and a device known as the Shallow Water Egress Trainer (SWET).
“My guys learned (a lot) from this observation and practice,” said Shunsaku, a training officer with 12th Infantry Regiment, and a native of Hokkaido, Japan. “They gained confidence from it, so if they have to do it in a real evacuation situation, they can use this to save their lives.”
Soldiers with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force observed and practiced water survival training at Camp Hansen's pool, June 26, as part of the Japanese Observer Exchange Program (JOEP). For several weeks, these soldiers will integrate with and observe ground training with Company L, Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.
The SWET chair is a training device that looks like a floating cage with a chair resembling the seat inside an aircraft. The light-weight materials and buoyancy allows water survival instructors to upend the chair in shallow water with a person strapped by harnesses to a seat. This device helps students overcome fear, learn escape procedures when inverted underwater, and know what to do if a helicopter were to crash in water, according to Kurt P. Reese, site manager for underwater egress training Camp Hansen, and a native of St. Louis.
“When (flying over water), there’s always a possibility of a helicopter crashing,” said 1st Lt. Austin S. Madden, a platoon commander with Co. L, BLT 3/5. “This training evolution could prepare them if in such a situation.”
Prior to getting in the pool, however, the instructors introduced the Marines and soldiers to the breathing regulator, techniques to escape the helicopter while submerged, and how to use their flotation devices.
Following the class, the water survival trainers demonstrated each activity to the Japanese soldiers in the 50-meter pool. The soldiers first practiced with the breathing apparatus, then came the tough part. Each service member sat on the edge of the pool and leaned back upside-down into the water with their feet supported by another student. This introduces them to the uncomfortable feeling of having water rush up their noise. Once they master this portion it is on to the chair.
When flipped upside down, the JGSDF soldiers hold onto their seat with one hand while searching for the exit with the other. They undo the seat's buckle and pull themselves out of the SWET chair.
“This training is used for boosting the confidence of our Japanese counterparts,” said Reese. “If they have to do a mission while flying over water, and if they have to crash or ditch in the water, they would have the skills necessary to successfully escape from the aircraft.”
This was a new experience to the JGSDF soldiers as they typically don’t train with the same kind of breathing regulators. The involvement of JGSDF soldiers in the MEU’s regularly-scheduled training comes in response to the April 2012 U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee, also known as the 2+2, statement calling for the enhancement of bilateral security and defense cooperation. The 31st MEU is the Nation’s force in readiness for the Asia Pacific region and is the only continuously forward deployed MEU.