Candidates must pass nine levels of water survival training to graduate from NACCS. Most of the time, when you end up in the water as an aviator, its because something went terribly wrong, said Water Survival Instructor Aviation Boatswains Mate (Equipment) 2nd Class Cory Smith. We give students the confidence theyll need to survive a mishap in the water. We make them understand that they have to get deep and swim away from the ship (or aircraft) to avoid falling debris, fire, explosions and other Sailors. It matters how you jump into the water. Jump the wrong way and you have to try to survive with a broken leg, dislocated shoulder, or worse.
According to Smith, it can take up to 15 minutes for a rescue helicopter to get off the deck, so surviving a crash means you have to make it to a life raft or tread water until help arrives. Air crew graduates leave knowing drown-proofing techniques like treading water, floating and making it to that life raft, even if its a mile swim away while wearing between 45 and 50 lbs. of flight gear.
I learned a lot at water survival, said Airman Recruit Avery Layton. She considered the tread and float test (WS-4) the toughest part of her training at air crew school. I got over being scared to put my face in the water here because I did it so many times. And another thing wearing boots doesnt give you more traction in the water.
Air crew personnel are entrusted to do more than complete their mission. Theyre expected to serve as watchdogs for the rest of the crew and the aircraft to prevent mishaps. One of the things air crew look for are symptoms of hypoxia.
Hypoxia is a physical condition the body experiences when blood oxygen levels fall below 87 percent, and typically begin at altitudes above 10,000 feet. Low levels of oxygen cause slowed motor skills and impaired judgment. Candidates go through a low-pressure chamber, where aviation physiological technicians like Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Mark Morin educate the airborne-bound Sailors.
Even though the air crew arent actually flying the aircraft, Morin said, they need to understand the signs of hypoxia, because if a pilot has hypoxia, everyone aboard that plane deals with his fate.
Being on the ground doesnt release air crewmen from their duties. When not flying, they perform duties such as aircraft maintenance, operations, line division, communications and other duties associated with their source ratings.
The air crew warfare designation is one of the toughest pins to earn. The Navy plans to keep it that way because of the reputation that the air crew wings have earned in the aviation community.
The air crew training programs reputation has allowed pilots to trust air crews without question, said Ellenburg. The pilots never second guess the enlisted air crews decisions.
The rewards for graduating from NACCS are brief, with a hearty handshake and a push onward to the next challenge in the four-part gauntlet that is the air crew qualification process. In addition to passing NACCS, candidates must conquer their source rating A school, Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape training and finally qualify on their specific platform at a fleet replacement squadron. Then, and only then do these guardian angels earn their wings and some extra cash with career enlisted flyer incentive pay.
But that daydream remains fuzzy for candidates back at NACCS, who are more focused on not swallowing more than their fair share of water, completing the dreaded mile swim and escaping the chaotic helicopter dunker, than on the day they get their wings, the holy grail of these guardian angels.