BAUMHOLDER, Germany — Pfc. Josh Roy scooted slowly through the water, sucking air as he labored to keep his head above the surface.

Although the M-16 he carried impeded his technique, Roy eventually managed to kick his way out of the pool.

“That’s no joke,” said Roy, winded after his swim. “The water saturates your clothes. It weighs you down.”

Soldiers from Company A, 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment tested their swimming skills Monday as part of their preparation for an upcoming deployment to Iraq. Because the unit will be operating somewhere south of Baghdad in an area with numerous waterways and canals, Capt. Richard Phillips said he wants soldiers in his company to be prepared.

In the event that a Humvee rolls over into water or a Bradley falls through soggy ground, the soldiers will need to swim for it, he said. The troops train separately on how to get out of the vehicle.

They’ll also need to know who in their company is more likely to sink than freestyle his way to dry land, Phillips said.

“Now they’re going to be able to identify who can’t swim. If something happens they’re going to be able to say ‘Where’s Jones? I’ve got to go get him,’” Phillips said.

About 150 soldiers battled their way through the water at Baumholder’s Rolling Hills swimming pool. In a couple instances, lifeguards needed to come to the rescue. Most soldiers, however, made it on their own.

The hard part, it seemed, was finding the most effective technique while carrying an M-16.

Staff Sgt. Adam Martin barked advice to one struggling soldier: “Side stroke it. Side stroke it,” he said.

The novices, meanwhile, spent the morning learning fundamentals like treading water.

“If you feel like you’re going to panic then grab the wall,” said one soldier, who coaxed a beginner from one end of the pool to the other.

After a fully clothed 25-meter swim, soldiers did 15 meters with their weapon in hand.

Then soldiers jumped off a diving board and practiced releasing their equipment before swimming for the wall.

Although the distances weren’t long, the exercise was “a lot harder than it looks,” Roy said. “And I’m a pretty good swimmer.”

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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