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Training and Education Command

United States Marine Corps
Lance corporal conquers swim instructor course

By Lance Cpl. Brian Kester | | June 11, 2004

MCRD/ERR PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. -- The splashing sounds of bodies contorting in watery desperation engulf the sounds of your cries for help as you cling onto the last limb of hope that you will not drown. You search for that person whose voice you can hear, but not see. You are issued a warning, "Relax sir, don't do that again!" The voice has reassured you that you will be helped - forcefully if needed.

The rescuer is a graduate from the Marine Combat Instructor of Water Survival Course held at the Depot's Combat Pool.

Lance Cpl. Jerome Atger, administrative clerk with the Command Inspector's Office, along with eight other students graduated June 4. That would not be an unusual achievement, except for the fact that he is a lance corporal, who was participating in a NCO level course.

According to Marine Corps Order 1500.52B, the minimum grade for this course is corporal, although that is waiverable with the endorsement of the commanding officer. Graduates of this course will receive an additional Military Occupational Specialty of 8563 with their initial MCIWS certification.

Since March 2000, there has not been a lance corporal in the class let alone one who sought out the course with such vigor.

"Swimming is kind of my niche," said Atger. "I'm pretty good at it, so I might as well take advantage of it. I had heard that the course is pretty challenging and that is what being in the Marine Corps is all about - doing things that can create a challenge and trying to overcome that."

The MCIWS Course is based off of the Red Cross' Lifeguard Training Course, but is set to be more applicable in war-fighting, combat type scenarios, said Staff Sgt. Christopher Carlisle, Marine combat instructor trainer of water survival.

"I did all of my swim qualifications up to the last level, which is [Water Survival Qualified]," said Atger. "The instructors thought I did a pretty good job with that and I should try to become an instructor."

Not only did he want to challenge himself, but also to extend that challenge as a training tool at any future assignment in the Corps.

"I figure, if I were to PCS somewhere, they might be able to use me to conduct swim qualifications or something like that," he said. "It is always a good thing to have something additional, and it looks pretty good in your Service Record Book."

Atger has made several lasting impressions in his two years, six months in the Marine Corps. One person who he has re-established contact with is one of his former drill instructors. That drill instructor has been there to encourage Atger to accomplish the goals he has set for himself. Encouraging him to find ways to make them happen and then see them through until the end.

"He always asked, 'How can I go to swim school,'" said Staff Sgt. Richard Vaneycke, drill instructor with Platoon 3048 Kilo Company, 3rd RTBn. "I kept telling him, you have to be a corporal or you will have to go through your chain of command and get a waiver."

That is exactly what Atger did, he went through the proper channels and got the OK to enroll in the course.

"I wanted to have the opportunity to go to a formal school," said Atger. "This was something that a lot of people told me was a tough school, and I wanted to find out for myself. Anybody has the ability to go through that course, it's just about pushing yourself physically and mentally."

Shortly after the class began, one of the instructors at the Combat Pool called Vaneycke and let him know that Atger was enrolled in the course. That made an indelible impression on Vaneycke who already had high expectations for his former recruit, whom he described as a stand out who volunteered for everything.

"I think that him being a lance corporal and doing this among sergeants and staff NCOs who have been in the Marine Corps for 10 to 15 years is a great accomplishment," said Vaneycke. "There is a lot involved in swim school, and it is one of the hardest courses that I have been to in the Marine Corps, both mentally and physically."

That fact could not be truer when one considers the amount and the quality of the students that were dropped as the course progressed. All except three of the initial 17 students had just graduated from Drill Instructor's School.

"He had a good attitude and he was strong in the water," said Carlisle. "We started with 17 and finished with nine, so that means a lot of sergeants and staff NCOs didn't make it that far, and that is an accomplishment on it's own."

Vaneycke remembers the course as very challenging with its constant physical demands and verbatim testing.

"The way I look at it is if there is a lance corporal outdoing me, then there is something wrong," said Vaneycke, a graduate of the MCIWS course. "In comparison to the my years of experience, for him to make it as far as he has is pretty impressive."

Making comparisons to recruit training, Atger found a familiar ditty, "Every stroke is a struggle," that helped him through the course. Often recruits will live chow to chow in order to get through each day, and that is the same principle that Atger fell back on.

"There where days where I asked myself how can I continue," he said.

He managed to continue. Each day finding something new deep down inside among the small goals he set for himself.

"You live day by day," said Atger. "Sometimes I would get discouraged and think that this stroke is going to [kill me]. Then to think that I have to do 350 more strokes just like that. If you have that mindset that you want to accomplish something, despite the fact that it might be difficult, you can accomplish it.


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