MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- In the first seconds after a helicopter crashes or ditches over water, the fate of those inside is determined by the actions they take.
Life and death hinges on an individual's ability to stay calm, unlatch his or her safety restraint and find an exit in conditions that may include being submerged in complete darkness.
For this reason, Marines and Sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit recently completed shallow water egress training (SWET) in preparation for the unit's upcoming training cycle and deployment.
The course included the proper use of a piece of safety equipment that can provide up to two minutes of additional air to an individual attempting to escape a submerged aircraft.
The device is called the Intermediate Passenger Helicopter Aircrew Breathing Device, or IPHABD, and functions like a miniature SCUBA tank with a regulator.
Though not mandatory, IPHABD use is widespread across the Marine Corps and is especially popular with units that make frequent flights to and from U.S. Navy ships such as Marine Expeditionary Units.
The 26th MEU for example has a policy that all passengers flying over water will be equipped with the IPHABD, according to the MEU safety officer, Capt. Benjamin B. Harrison.
But like all safety equipment and procedures ever developed, the device will not save a life if the individual does not know how to properly use it.
To ensure MEU personnel understand both the procedure and the gear, egress training included classroom instruction followed by practical application in the pool with instructors from Survival Systems USA, a civilian company contracted by the Marine Corps.
In the pool Marines and Sailors practiced basic procedures that included releasing their safety harnesses and punching out windows to escape a cage designed to simulate a helicopter inverted in the water. Marines completed this drill with and without the aid of the IPHABD.
Corporal David S. Geruau, 26th MEU operations clerk, said that in the controlled pool environment, the egress drill was easier without the use of the IPHABD. However, if he was ever a real situation he would “definitely” want the IPHABD because of the additional time it provides to properly execute the egress procedures he learned during the course, he said.
“It’s like all training the Marine Corps does, they engrain it in your head so you will know what to do when it actually happens,” he said.
The 26th MEU continues to train and make preparations for the coming training cycle scheduled to commence in June. The training will culminate with a 2007 deployment in support of the Global War on Terrorism.