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A survival systems instructor demonstrates how a carpet formation can be used to keep injured Marines afloat at the Camp Hansen pool Monday as part of a two-day course on helicopter water egress and survival.
A survival systems instructor demonstrates how a carpet formation can be used to keep injured Marines afloat at the Camp Hansen pool Monday as part of a two-day course on helicopter water egress and survival. (Cindy Fisher / S&S)
A survival systems instructor demonstrates how a carpet formation can be used to keep injured Marines afloat at the Camp Hansen pool Monday as part of a two-day course on helicopter water egress and survival.
A survival systems instructor demonstrates how a carpet formation can be used to keep injured Marines afloat at the Camp Hansen pool Monday as part of a two-day course on helicopter water egress and survival. (Cindy Fisher / S&S)
Staff Sgt. Daron Wilkinson practices clearing water out of the mouthpiece of a breathing device while receiving water survival instructions at the Camp Hansen pool.
Staff Sgt. Daron Wilkinson practices clearing water out of the mouthpiece of a breathing device while receiving water survival instructions at the Camp Hansen pool. (Cindy Fisher / S&S)
Cpl. Christina Weikert heads the chain at a survival training classroom at Camp Hansen on Friday.
Cpl. Christina Weikert heads the chain at a survival training classroom at Camp Hansen on Friday. (Cindy Fisher / S&S)
Lance Cpl. Jose Cruz, 20, mans a 50-caliber machine gun and Lance Cpl. Seth Elizalde, 21, monitors the radio at the entry control point to Combat Logistics Battalion 31’s base camp at Kin Blue Monday.
Lance Cpl. Jose Cruz, 20, mans a 50-caliber machine gun and Lance Cpl. Seth Elizalde, 21, monitors the radio at the entry control point to Combat Logistics Battalion 31’s base camp at Kin Blue Monday. (Cindy Fisher / S&S)
Instructors tell Marines to assume the brace position for ditching as a mock helicopter module enters the water and flips upside down at the Camp Hansen pool on Monday.
Instructors tell Marines to assume the brace position for ditching as a mock helicopter module enters the water and flips upside down at the Camp Hansen pool on Monday. (Cindy Fisher / S&S)

CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa — Marines are getting to play in the Camp Hansen pool — serious play at how to survive a helicopter crash in water, that is.

More than 450 Marines and sailors with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit will cycle through the two-day training in the next five weeks. Twenty-four completed the training this week.

The training, provided by Survival Systems USA, can increase the survival rate of a water crash from 3 percent to 85 percent, said Robert Smith, the company’s chief instructor.

Using a mock-up of a helicopter cabin, instructors on Monday showed 24 students such things as how to get out of a downed CH-46 or CH-53, how to use a breathing device and, once out of the craft, how to survive until rescue.

The training has part of its roots in a 1999 helicopter crash that killed six Marines and a sailor in the ocean off Camp Pendleton, Calif. In the aftermath, the Marine Corps instituted changes in helicopter procedures that included issuing breathing devices to everyone aboard a helicopter, not just the air crew, Smith said.

Staff Sgt. Daron Wilkinson, 36, of Dallas said he has been flying in aircraft for 13 years and “just now getting this training makes me re-evaluate all the times I flew in helos over water. I feel a lot more confident about getting out now.”

Elsewhere on Okinawa, some 2,220 Marines and sailors with the 31st MEU have been refining rapid response skills and learning to become a cohesive unit.

That exercise is part of the MEU’s preparation for its Expeditionary Strike Group Exercise deployment at the end of the month.

The exercise covers the spectrum of possible missions. Among them: helicopter operations; boat raids; reconnaissance and surveillance; humanitarian assistance and disaster relief; rapid planning scenarios; tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel; and combat support, according to Capt. Burrell Parmer, a MEU spokesman.

“We are following the crawl-walk-run method of training,” Parmer said.

Every six months, the unit receives a new influx of Marines from island-based units, Camp Pendleton and Hawaii.

The exercise, which is held semi-annually, allows the different elements that make up the unit to work together and become integrated into a team, Parmer said.

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