MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
In signing up for the military, service members volunteer to handle all the dangers of combat. No one enlists thinking they will die in their off-duty time.
Yet, over the past five years, at least 36 Marines and sailors died during recreational water sports, according to the Navy and Marine Corps Executive Safety Summary.
“Ultimately, you need to know your surroundings,” said Staff Sgt. Brent Sharp, of 2nd Marine Logistics Group’s Safety Office. “Anywhere you go, whether you’re waking up in the morning or you’re walking down the beach on the way to the water.”
It is advice we have likely all heard before, but it paid off on Camp Lejeune’s Onslow Beach this week when an eight-foot alligator was spotted swimming in the ocean…before anyone was hurt.
Even with proper planning and the knowledge to protect yourself, things can go wrong without a moment’s notice. Sharp, a Marine combat water survival instructor, has had his own close encounter.
While swimming in the ocean in Hawaii, he unexpectedly found himself caught in a sudden, powerful current leading out to sea, known as a rip current.
Fortunately, he used his knowledge to swim out of the current sideways instead of trying to fight the might of the ocean. Yet, even though he was an experienced swimmer, in good physical condition with the right plan, it was a struggle to reach land.
“What felt like 45 minutes was probably five or six, but I have never been more drained of energy in my entire life than I was that day,” said Sharp. “It scared me. It took me almost three years to get back in the water after that.”
Almost every year the naval services suffer loss of life due to rip tides. To protect yourself, Sharp recommends checking local weather reports for information on the tide and rip current warnings before you head for the beach.
“I was at Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Weekend with my family,” said Sharp. “I’m a big fan of the water, but I will not go in until I’ve had a chance to sit there and look at it. It’s kind of like football players inspecting the field before a game. You need to size up the situation before you put yourself in it.”
One such example is attempting to rescue a drowning victim. Service members are trained to react promptly in an emergency, but Sharp emphasizes that despite our training and skill, rushing in to a rescue is exceptionally dangerous because drowning victims often panic and may use violence to stay above water.
“At that point, they’re not thinking. It’s fight or flight. That’s part of training that we as Marines go through, but we’re in an enclosed pool when we’re doing it. With waves crashing on you, it’s a different animal,” Sharp explained.
Although the water presents many unique dangers one must be aware of, living in ‘Coastal Carolina’ offers many great opportunities to enjoy swimming, boating and diving, but remember -- at least six fellow Marines and sailors have disappeared while swimming alone in the past five years, so be sure to bring some friends or family if you plan on enjoying any of the area’s many lakes, rivers or beaches this summer.