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Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) prepare to submerge underwater during a Modular Amphibious Egress Trainer (MAET) exercise as part of the MEU’s pre-deployment training program in preparation for an upcoming deployment at sea, at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Oct. 3, 2017. The Modular Amphibious Egress Trainer, commonly known as the Helo Dunker, teaches Marines survival techniques to use if they are in a sinking helicopter. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jon Sosner)

Photo by Cpl. Jon Sosner

Ready for anything: Marines practice underwater egress

23 Oct 2017 | Cpl. Jon Sosner 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) went through the Modular Amphibious Egress Trainer (MAET) during the pre-deployment training program in preparation for an upcoming deployment at sea, at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Oct. 3, 2017.

The training is critical for Marines assigned to MEUs, due to the high probability that they will be transported via helicopter over water during the deployment. It is required for all Marines and Sailors assigned to the MEU to have the MAET certification.

“The purpose of the training is to take Marines who frequently ride in the back of helicopters, and give them more familiarity with how to get out,” said Kenneth Bonner, an underwater egress instructor, with civilian contracting company F3EA Inc.. “This way, should they find themselves in a helicopter that is upside down in the water, they have a fighting chance at survival.”

The training starts with classroom instruction, a video, intended to grab their attention and show them the importance of the training.

On December 9, 1999, a Boeing Vertol CH-46D Sea Knight helicopter crashed while attempting to land aboard the fleet replenishment oiler USNS Pecos during a large-scale exercise at sea resulting in the death of seven of 18 personnel flying in the aircraft. As a direct result of this accident, the Marine Corps implemented a training regimen to teach Marines how to successfully egress from sinking helicopters, starting in the spring of 2001.

“One of the first things the Marines see is a video of a helicopter that crashes on a ship and falls into the sea,” Bonner said. “That way, they can see that it can happen to them and it can happen very fast.”

The training consists of three main parts. The emergency breathing station teaches Marines proper and safe underwater breathing techniques. After completing that station, the Marines move to the Shallow Water Egress Trainer (SWET) chair, which flips them upside down and orients them to what it will be like in the modular egress trainer, where they will put everything they have learned to the test.

“If you are new to the Marine Corps and you were put on an aircraft that went down, you would have no idea what to do without this training,” said Lance Cpl. Michael A. Irizarry, an aviation technician with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 162 (Reinforced). “When you first get in there, you’re a little nervous, but as long as you don’t panic you’ll be fine, and now I am much more confident.”

This training gives Marines the skills and confidence they will need, should they ever be in an underwater egress situation.

Prior to deployment, a MEU undergoes an intensive six-month training program, focusing on its mission-essential task list and interoperability with joint and special operations forces. The 26th MEU is currently preparing for Composite Training Unit Exercise, its final pre-deployment training exercise prior to deployment at sea. 

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