Every Marine a rifleman, but is every Marine a swimmer?

Many aren’t, until they’re steeped, stirred and strained in the refining water of the 53 Area Pool. That’s where Lance Cpl. Christopher D. Manella and his expert squad of instructors from the Combat Water Safety Swimmer Course turn floundering Marines, some of whom struggle strenuously simply to tread water, into full-fledged amphibious warriors.

Lance Cpl. Edward J. Gonzalez, a fire team leader with 1st Bn., 4th Marine Regiment, removes his blouse while staying afloat during the 3,600-meter swim. Swimmers remove one uniform item every 600 meters.

Manella and company are responsible for training Marines into qualified safety swimmers, who provide vital supervision during any sort of amphibious training. Whether conducting rescues in the surf zone during reconnaissance training or simply overseeing a scout swimmer course, they’re the backbone of amphibious safety here. Marines enrolled in the two-week course are baptized into everything from cardiopulmonary resuscitation training to extended pool soakings in full gear (cammies, flak, kevlar). It’s all designed to prepare them for “buddy rescues” in the surf zone at the beach.

Lance Cpl. Matthew J. Martell, a rifleman with 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, explodes to the surface and gasps for air following a 50-meter underwater swim during training June 28 at the 53 Area Pool. Marines must complete the swim without coming up for air to pass the class. One of the more daunting challenges students face is the 3,600- meter strip swim. They begin the exercise in full gear and shed a piece every 600 meters. They can use only the crawl stroke to propel themselves.

“This is the most demanding part of the course so far,” said Lance Cpl. Nathaniel A. Ziobro, 21, a machine gunner with Company C, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. “You just have to push yourself and not stop even though you’re tired.”

Two Marines with 1st Bn., 4th Marine Regiment, pass each other while crawling across the pool

For several Marines, the course served as a stepping stone to highly amphibious professions like reconnaissance. One such Marine, Sgt. Aren C. Brandfass, 30, from Sacramento, is a sniper school instructor at the School of Infantry.

“The course helps to improve confidence and tests your ability to perform in the water,” Brandfass said. “You do so many things in the water that you’ve never done before, and it takes you out of your comfort zone.”

But the final test, a 50-question written exam, is on dry land. A passing grade certifies a Marine as a combat water safety swimmer.