DPE offers Survival Swimming to staff and faculty

Story and photos by Michelle Eberhart Assistant Editor

March 9th, 2017 | News, News and Features
Department of Physical Education Aquatics Instructor Capt. Matthew Lensing explains blouse and trouser inflation during this month’s Survival Swimming staff and faculty outreach fitness session, Feb. 21. Each month DPE hosts a different activity during their outreach fitness sessions.
A participant of the February DPE staff and faculty outreach fitness session practices trouser inflation as part of the survival swimming lesson.

Survival Swimming is one of the more novel course offerings to cadets at the U.S. Military Academy. By learning to endure extreme conditions in full uniform in a pitch-black wave pool, the course simulates a real-life scenario that some cadets may face as officers.

While the Survival Swimming course is normally exclusive to cadets, the Department of Physical Education invited staff and faculty to get a taste of the unique class, Feb. 21.

Although DPE hosts a different staff and faculty fitness outreach session each month, Aquatics Instructor, Capt. Matthew Lensing, said that this specific session covered unfamiliar territory.

“This course in particular has a lot of myths about it and we wanted to dispel any rumors about what we do here and show people a little portion of our curriculum,” Lensing noted. “We’re trying to build confidence in cadet swimming ability and then manage fear through putting them in some unknown situations like we experienced today.”

The outreach session began with instructors demonstrating the breast stroke, elementary back stroke and the side stroke. As the staff and faculty practiced, they had to get comfortable wearing shirts and pants in the water; civilians wore jeans and long-sleeved button down shirts while military personnel wore ACU’s.

“It is a key portion of our curriculum here to get cadets swimming with their uniform because it’s the operational uniform that they would find if they were deployed or on a training exercise,” Lensing explained.

Instructors then taught the participants different techniques on how to inflate their blouses and trousers to stay afloat without expending too much energy. After covering the basics, the wave pool was turned on, sprinklers mimicked rain and lights flickered. Then, the staff and faculty members had to test their newly learned skills.

“We put them through an exercise where they had to enter the water down the slide, which causes some disorientation when they hit the water, swim a certain distance to a buoy and then from that point, they’d have to inflate their trousers through wave conditions,” Lensing said. “That’s just a small taste of what we put cadets through in their culminating event in Survival Swimming.”

The sample of the 19-lesson mandatory course offered to Yearling cadets proved to be a hit, bringing in roughly 30 staff and faculty members from USMA and the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School.

Commandant of USMAPS, Col. Christopher Budihas, participated in the session and says the outreach event offered a great deal of insight to him and his staff.

“We had an opportunity to see firsthand what the cadet candidates are going to go through and then take that information back and use it for our future training in order to prepare them to start off their Plebe summer here,” Budihas explained. “It was good training and instruction, it shows you that simple fundamentals make a difference.”

This is the first fitness session that USMAPS staff and faculty have been a part of but they plan to continue to connect with DPE and learn more of what the cadet candidates will endure when they enter USMA.

Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Flick, a USMAPS TAC-NCO, says that he and his colleagues enjoyed the opportunity as well.

“We don’t get to see what kind of training they’re getting here when it comes to survival swimming, so it was a great experience,” Flick said, noting that he hasn’t done anything like this in a few years. “I would say that this is probably one of the better experiences when it comes to the big Army resources, trying to figure out how to make training more realistic, we don’t get to see that often in the regular Army, we just get a pool.”

Women’s Rowing team coaches Jennie Kiesling and Kate Brownson learned some new skills as well.

“It was wonderful, I’ve seen the cadets do it and I was really, really excited to get to try it,” Kiesling, who is also a USMA history professor, said. “ I learned that it’s possible to inflate ones uniform and make it into a life jacket… and also that being in the wave pool is actually rather fun and it’s not as scary as it looks!”

Brownson agreed.

“I thought it was really informative and I wanted to do it because I wanted to learn about more of what the cadets go through in their physical training here and really open my eyes on what they do, especially outside of our practice time,” she said. “So I really enjoyed learning a survival mode, if we’re ever out in the water, and especially in our sport, but we don’t flip our boats often!”

In addition, Brownson said the event allowed her to interact with members of the USMA community that she normally wouldn’t.

“We met new people from USMAPS, so that was great, just making new connections,” she said. “We learned a lot of physical training that DPE taught us, but also some networking too, it’s great to meet new people.”

DPE hosts Faculty Outreach Fitness Sessions each month and they invite all members of the USMA community.

“The fitness sessions are an opportunity as a department to be able to demonstrate what we do, give everyone a little taste of what cadets experience in our curriculum, and hopefully bring some fun and new activities to people that they maybe wouldn’t experience otherwise,” Lensing said. “I know the West Point community hears a lot about what the physical program is like for cadets and this is an opportunity to showcase some of that, as well as giving people a workout or a new skill that maybe they didn’t have before they came to the fitness session.”

The next DPE Faculty Outreach Fitness Session will be Strength Training at 12:15 p.m. March 22 in the 3rd Floor Gym of Arvin Cadet Physical Development Center.