Clemson ROTC Cadets Test their Mettle with Water Survival Training

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U.S. Army Master Sgt. Joe Medrano (left), a senior military instructor for Clemson University’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program from Presidio, Texas, instructs a cadet before the 5-meter drop event of the Combat Water Survival Test, Jan. 28, 2016. Photo by Staff Sgt. Ken Scar, 45th Military History Detachment, Public Affairs

CLEMSON, S.C. ­— U.S. Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadets were tested on their stamina and personal courage with the Combat Water Survival Test at Clemson University Thursday.

The test evaluates each cadet’s stamina in water and their ability to complete three stations while loaded down in full uniform and equipment. Passing the events helps ensure they have the fundamental water survival skills necessary to lead Soldiers in a hostile environment where there’s water, but as Army cadets, who will likely see little if any water environments in their careers, the test is mainly an exercise to challenge their mental fortitude.

“In the Army, we aren’t in combat in the water very often,” said Maj. Amanda Kane, Clemson’s assistant professor of military science. “We do this event not only to build esprit de corps but to learn to trust our equipment, and to learn to be more comfortable in the water. This is mostly a confidence-builder.”

Completing each of the tasks is a matter of handling anxiety without panicking, and passing the test is a mandatory commissioning requirement – one that’s a lot more fun than many of the other requirements according to Katheryn Bean, a sophomore from Newport News, Virginia, studying biological sciences.

“This is my favorite lab,” said Bean. “It’s a different side of the Army. At first, it’s kind of scary but at the same time it’s exhilarating, because you have no idea what’s going to happen next. I just think about jumping out of a plane.”

A U.S. Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadet plunges into the Clemson University pool while performing the “5-meter drop” event of the Combat Water Survival Test, Jan. 28, 2016. To pass the event Soldiers (and future Soldiers) must step off a 5-meter diving board blindfolded and carrying an M16, and make it back to the side of the pool with weapon in hand. Photo by Staff Sgt. Ken Scar, 45th Military History Detachment, Public Affairs

During the test, cadets first must swim laps for 10 minutes without touching the pool sides or bottom. After a five-minute break, they must tread water for five minutes without touching the pool sides or bottom.

Next come the three events with full gear on.

In the “equipment ditch,” cadets must wear a tactical vest and hold an M16 rifle while stepping backward into the water. The cadet must submerge completely and remove the vest and weapon before resurfacing.

Then the cadets must swim 15 meters carrying the M16s without touching the pool sides or bottom.

U.S. Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadet Preksha Jayamarughyraman, 20, a Clemson University sophomore from Alexandria, Va., studying biological science, hands off her M16 to complete the “15-meter swim” event of the Combat Water Survival Test Jan. 28, 2016. To pass the event, cadets have to swim 15 meters in uniform carrying an M16 without touching the bottom or sides of the pool. Photo by Staff Sgt. Ken Scar, 45th Military History Detachment, Public Affairs

Last is the 5-meter drop, widely considered the most nerve-wracking event. Cadets are blindfolded and guided off a 5-meter diving board carrying M16s. To pass, they must hold onto the weapons upon hitting the water, take off the blindfolds and return to the side of the pool with the weapons still in hand.

The hardest event might not be the one most people think, said cadet Preksha Jayamarughyraman, 20, a sophomore from Alexandria, Virginia, studying biological science.

“That equipment ditch has never been the easiest thing – I would rather do the 5-meter drop multiple times. It’s a two-second drop and before you know it you’re coming up for air,” she said. “The [equipment ditch] always takes me a second – I’ve got a 10-pound rifle that I have to stick in the air or at least not let the tip go in. It takes a moment to adjust, and then you’re weighed down by your uniform and all your [load-bearing vest] stuff. You start getting really tired at the halfway point, but when you have a lot of people around you encouraging you – you can see the end and that’s always helpful.”

The Clemson ROTC program was established as an integral part of the academic curriculum in 1893. It offers a general military subject curriculum, producing officers for a wide variety of assignments.

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