SAN DIEGO (Feb. 4, 2016) – The Search and Rescue Swimmer School (SRSS) offers a grueling Navy education for those who embrace danger so others may live. Fifty percent dropout from injury or resignation and few hopefuls ever receive a second chance.
The precommissioning ship John P. Murtha (LPD 26) welcomed their first qualified SAR swimmer as an exception to the rule. Seaman Cryptologic Technician (Collections) David Berardino became the first qualified Search and Rescue (SAR) swimmer for the ship after graduating from SRSS aboard Naval Base San Diego Feb. 4. This was his second time through the four-week SRSS course. The first occurred two months ago where he was neither injured nor lacked internal resolve to continue, but missed the mark on a physical test and the instructors had to decide if they were to keep him as a student.
“It was the 800-meter buddy tow and I failed to finish in the time allotted. I was given another shot the following day with the same result,” said Berardino. “I was offered remediation of extra physical training, and although I felt supported by the instructors and offered another shot on the third day, I refused.”
He said that he did not want to waste their time - fail again - and lose their respect. Instead he asked to join the next class the following month so he could continue to train and prepare himself. In a rare decision, the instructors agreed instead of dropping him from the course.
“This would not have been possible without my faith in God and the faith of both the LPD 26 and SRSS commands,” said Berardino. “I failed but I was determined to see this through.”
Search and Rescue (SAR) swimmers hang out of helicopters and jump in to uncertain waters to save lives. Berardino took it upon himself to physically train on his own to increase his strength, endurance and flexibility under these extremely stressful situations.
“You must be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” said SRSS Lead Instructor Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class (SW) Robert Chittenden. “The training received here is not only physically demanding and the true test is the mental adaptation to stress. Anyone who quits here would certainly quit when lives hang in the balance.” Senior Chief Boatswain’s Mate (SW/AW) Kevin Rohrer, LPD 26 Search and Rescue officer, said he was impressed and proud of his newly qualified Sailor.
“Through sheer intestinal fortitude, he overcame incredible hardships to be here today,” he said. “The fact that he was class leader and came close to breaking school house records the second time around is incredible.”
The real world test for a SAR swimmer are not realized until a life and death situation emerges and someone’s life is at stake. Rohrer said the mental toughness that Berardino possesses will serve him well, if and when, he needs to put that toughness to the test.
“His hard work paid off, and our ship is better off with Berardino as our shipmate,” said Rohrer.
If there are survivors in the water, SAR swimmers must be able to recover a victim and provide first aid in the water until more advanced medical care can be provided.
“Graduating feels like a long time coming, and I feel the burden of responsibility since I am the guy between someone living and dying - that’s huge and I take that to heart,” said Berardino. “I am responsible ensuring that if a real life situation develops, I will not fail the people that got me here. This is why I love the Navy – people honestly had my back and I was able to succeed.” SAR swimmers must be able to perform their duty while holding their breath, often during perilous storms and being tossed by mountainous waves. Their courage and abilities have saved countless lives when the ocean attempts to claim a victim.