SAR SWIMMERS: THE STORY
SAR: Attention all ye Squids, Mermaids, Landlubbers, Pollywogs, Honorable Shellbacks and Sailors of the Seven Seas. Grab yourself a cup o’ grog from the scuttlebut and take seats for I got a tale for you!
What is SAR you might ask? Great questions! Stands for Search and Rescue, we’re talking about the U.S. Navy SAR swimmers, the Sailors with courage the size of cannonballs, the elite of the Naval Aviation Enlisted Community. The Sailors of the AW enlisted Rating must complete some of the most rigorous training pipelines in the course of their goals. Not only must they be able to swim in high seas to rescue a victim, but they also must function as a member of the Helicopter Air Crew.
The US Coast Guard SAR Swimmers were made famous with the release of the 2006 motion picture The Guardian, starring Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher. Though a “Coastie” film this provided a portrayal of Rescue Swimmer training, and operations. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 both US Navy and Coast Guard SAR swimmers worked alongside to rescue stranded civilians in the flooded City of New Orleans. The Helicopter Rescue Swimmers of the Coast Guard, Navy, and Air Force saved thousands of people stuck in the flooded areas of New Orleans when the levees broke. If it were not for these brave pilots and SAR swimmers several thousand people would have died.
When you arrive at Navy SAR (Search and Rescue Swimmer) or USCG Rescue Swimmer School, you will be placed in a stressful environment and expected to excel in military education, close quarter living, teamwork, and physical fitness tests (PFT).
One interesting fact is that the Coast Guard and Navy are the only branches that allow women to serve as SAR swimmers. Demonstrating Equal Opportunity women must meet the same physical, endurance, and performance standards as men in order to earn a qualification as a Coast Guard rescue swimmer. The first female Navy rescue swimmer was HMC(AC) Catherine Elliott, USN (Ret). she was also the very first woman to graduate from Helicopter Anti-submarine Squadron in Jacksonville, Fl. and become a rescue swimmer on December 16, 1983. The first US Navy female rescue swimmer was at HSL-31, NAS North Island in 1977.
United States Navy and Marine Corps rescue swimmer candidates attend a four-week-long Aircrew School followed by the five-week-long Aviation Rescue Swimmer School in Pensacola, Florida. After graduating rescue swimmer school students go on to their respective ‘A’ School also in Pensacola, Florida. Navy air rescue swimmers were recently split into two separate rates. Which rate a rescue swimmer attains depends on what type of helicopter they are to become qualified in.
Once a Navy rescue swimmer has graduated ‘A’ School they will go on to their respective Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS). Here Crewman learn the various systems in the helicopter they will be flying in. They are also expected to know various in-flight procedures such as hoist operating procedures and in-flight troubleshooting. This syllabus can take from six to twelve months.
The last stop for a Navy rescue swimmer is SERE School (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape). Upon graduation from the brutal two week course they will go to the fleet as operational rescue swimmers. They will only be considered qualified Aircrewmen once they complete an additional 18-month PQS in their new squadron. Once they are qualified, they are eligible to wear Naval Aircrew wings.
THE SAR CORPSMAN
Rescue swimmers also must have the skills to provide basic pre-hospital life support for rescued individuals. And as part of their training, candidates must complete an emergency medical training course. This is not an ordinary EMT – if you are exposed to high seas, rough terrain and other dangers and ordinary EMT will not survive. The training you are seeking is hardcore physical and mental training that will challenge you to your core. In fact, SAR Swimmer School boasts more than a 50% attrition rate – so it is crucial you go to the training scoring high in your PFT, but more importantly – be confident in the water. Not cocky! You must have a deep respect for the power of the sea, but know that your training will help save your life and the lives of the ocean’s victims.
The design features a skull wearing the trademark mask and snorkel used by SAR Swimmers in the performance of their duties; representative of these heroes snatching the victim from the clutches of death. The swimmer skull is flanked by swim fins and is surrounded by a rich black background symbolic of the deep dark ocean and unforgiving night sky that the SAR Swimmers must fight in the performance of their duties. Above our swimmer we find the golden Naval Air Crew (NAC) wings in a place of honor high in the heavens. The text “So others may live” is representative of the self-sacrifice that these brave men and women depict in the often time impossible task that these Sailors carry out with a smile on their faces! The placement of the wording stretching between the swim fins is in recognition of the sacrifices that these US Navy Sailors have made.
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