January 17, 2017
When the young men and women of the 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry National Guard Regiment signed up for service with the National Guard, they didn’t think they’d ever be blindfolded and forced to “walk the plank” like an old-time pirate film come to life.
But on Sunday morning, soldiers from all around middle and western Iowa found themselves doing just that at the Carroll Rec Center pool as part of the unit’s first-ever water survival training exercise.
Staff Sgt. Chris Friedrichsen, a Denison High School graduate, said company commanders and platoon leaders are responsible for knowing the survival ability of each of their soldiers.
“We let soldiers identify as non-swimmers first,” he said. “Then we test them with a 2-minute buoyancy test (treading water) to identify anyone else whose safety could be at risk in the water.”
Of the 100 or so National Guardsmen, 10 identified as non-swimmers and a few more didn’t make the first cut. Friedrichsen said the regiment has about 114 soldiers drilling out of Carroll.
The unit trained for about 2 hours rotating between four stations designed to test different aquatic skills.
The “travel stroke” forced swimmers to swim the length of the pool with a rifle held above water in one hand; the “trouser inflation float” taught soldiers how to hold a pocket of air in each leg to help them float; the soldiers were required to tread water for 5 minutes and the final station, “water entry” had blindfolded Guardsmen walking off the diving board with a rifle held above head before swimming to safety.
“This is the first time we’ve done water training,” Friedrichsen said. “Safety is our first priority, but you never know what sort of conditions you’re going to see in the field and we need to be prepared.”
The 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry Regiment is based in Council Bluffs and led by Commander 1st Lt. Aaron Sharr.