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Petty Officer 1st Class Ryan Branco, of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 14, swims off the coast of Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, during search and rescue training on Monday.

Petty Officer 1st Class Ryan Branco, of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 14, swims off the coast of Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, during search and rescue training on Monday. (Christopher B. Stoltz / S&S)

Petty Officer 1st Class Ryan Branco, of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 14, swims off the coast of Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, during search and rescue training on Monday.

Petty Officer 1st Class Ryan Branco, of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 14, swims off the coast of Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, during search and rescue training on Monday. (Christopher B. Stoltz / S&S)

Sailors assigned to Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 14 conduct diving exercises on Monday.

Sailors assigned to Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 14 conduct diving exercises on Monday. (Christopher B. Stoltz / S&S)

Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 14’s Chief Petty Officer Marc Ennis, left, and another air crewman rig a recovery litter during search-and-rescue training.

Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 14’s Chief Petty Officer Marc Ennis, left, and another air crewman rig a recovery litter during search-and-rescue training. (Christopher B. Stoltz / S&S)

Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 14’s Petty Officer 1st Class Ryan Branco, during Monday's search-and-rescue training.

Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 14’s Petty Officer 1st Class Ryan Branco, during Monday's search-and-rescue training. (Christopher B. Stoltz / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — It was during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that the search-and-rescue swimmers’ motto, “So others may live,” took on a deeper meaning for Petty Officer 1st Class Ryan Branco.

“I saved 53 people, four dogs, two birds and a cat,” Branco said as he and 24 other SAR swimmers from Atsugi’s Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 14 suited up for training in the waters off Yokosuka on Wednesday.

According to Branco, its not until swimmers get out into open water, with prop wash blasting water at them at 80 knots and the sound of the blades cutting through the air, that they begin to get an idea of what its like to fly a real mission.

“You always train for the worse and hope it doesn’t happen,” Branco said. “But if something does happen, you need to know what to do out there. It’s not a game; its people’s lives.”

The squadron spent a couple hours conducting both daylight and nighttime training. Each time, two helicopters would fly slowly about 10 feet above the water, while the swimmers jumped out. Afterward, the swimmers would pair up and wait for the helicopters to return so they could hook up to a recovery harness and be hoisted back up.

The group also deployed a recovery litter, a kind of a floating gurney, to practice recovering a person who is incapacitated or unable to be lifted with the harness.

According to Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott Montejo, the operations department’s leading chief petty officer, the squadron conducts training like this at least once per year to keep everyone’s qualifications up to date — which can be a challenge with a schedule that has the squadron at home for only short periods.

“A lot goes into a training event like this,” Montejo said. “About half of our swimmers are brand new, and there are so many things that we need to be on the look out for — hypothermia, sea state, currents and back injuries.”

The squadron is preparing to go to sea aboard the Yokosuka-based aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk later this month.

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