Iron Ducks

15 Dec 2021 | Lance Cpl. Colin Harper Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island

All recruits aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island S.C., are required to qualify in water survival. Recruits who fail to qualify on their first attempt are identified as iron ducks. The Marines in charge of training the iron ducks are the Marine Corps Instructors of Water Survival (MCIWS).

Swim qualification consists of five events that test recruits’ abilities in the water. It is made up of a 25 meter shallow water swim, a four minute back float, a jump from a 20 foot tower followed by a 25 meter swim, a 25 meter swim with a floatation device, an underwater gear shed. The entirety of swim qualification is performed in full combat utilities and boots.

“Many of the iron ducks have never swam in their life,” said Staff Sgt. Maxime Faulkner, a MCIWS at the swim tank, “It’s just something new for them, so they have a hard time.”

Recruits who fail to complete one of these events are required to return the next day for additional water training, said Faulkner. Approximately thirty percent of the recruits from each company become iron ducks. They have a week to pass before they get recycled in training.

“As an MCIWS, you have to put yourselves in those recruits’ shoes,” said Faulkner.

The MCIWS teach the recruits using the back swim method. There are four essential steps taught to iron ducks; explosive breathing, head position, upper body movement, and lower body movement.

“The instructors made sure that I was floating right, that I was confident, that I was breathing,” said Morgan Warren, a recruit with Kilo Company, “They made sure I was doing everything correctly.”

Faulkner said it takes about a week to get a whole company’s iron ducks to pass. There are very few recruits that actually fail swim qualification at the end of the week.

“My skills improved a lot more than I thought they would,” said Warren.

Faulkner said that the instructors put a lot of work into helping the recruits.

“I’ve been doing this for quite a while,” said Faulkner. “Seeing a recruit pass after you’ve taught them yourself, it’s motivating and it’s humbling.”

Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island