The training it takes to become a rescue swimmer with the Coast Guard

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Four sailors safe and sound after two weeks at sea rescued 65 miles off the coast of Charleston back in June by a group of men and women more exclusive than the Navy Seals.

Live 5 News travels out to Air Station Savannah and takes a close look at the physical and mental training it takes to become a rescue swimmer with the United States Coast Guard.

The mission of the moment for 20-year-old Airman Tyler Poole was making it up this 20-foot rope.

"I wanted nothing more than to just drop from the rope, but I heard my shipmates over here cheering me on, and just keep on pushing."

Pushing limits is second nature for Poole and others...who aspire to join the ranks of roughly 350 other rescue swimmers in the country. Jason Mathers is part of that select few. He has been a rescue swimmer for 17 years.

"Ninety percent of the people coming into the Coast Guard want to be a rescue swimmer. I just let them know that this is not something to take lightly. It's extremely difficult, physically and mentally, and just saying you want to do it doesn't mean you're going to be able to do it."

So, what does it take to jump or repel from a hovering helicopter 30 feet above South Carolina waters?
Well, the teaching begins here in this pool at Air Station Savannah, four hours a week for four months.

From rescue a simulation involving an injured pilot and deployed parachute, to countless laps lugging a 15-pound brick and towing your buddy around the pool, sessions are physically demanding and intense. However, Mathers says becoming a rescue swimmer takes even more mental strength.
"You have to keep yourself from quitting. You have to tell yourself keep going, and you have to have the mental fortitude to keep on when your body is telling you to stop."

"I believe it probably requires almost, maybe more, mental than physical just because it's passable, it's just what you believe," says Poole. "If you think you're going to be able to make it, if you believe you can, you're going to make it."

After four months of rigorous training in Savannah, the airmen will go off to Elizabeth City, North Carolina for another 18 weeks of rescue swimmer school. About four out of ten will make it through that program.

Twenty-four-year old Airman Eric Lamy didn't succeed the first time around. That's why he's back and in his ninth month of training.

"Kind of addicted to it so-to-speak."

He says he plans on getting through the training in Savannah again and earning another chance in Elizabeth City.

"Going back again. Second time is a charm."

And like Lamy, Poole says this is it for him. Failure isn't an option.

"This is the only thing. People ask me what's your back-up plan when you don't make it? I don't have one."

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