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My Coast Guard
Commentary | March 22, 2022

Rescue swimmers train in California while North Carolina training center is renovated   

By Janki Patel, MyCG Writer

The Coast Guard has temporarily relocated training for rescue swimmers to Petaluma, Calif., so its historic North Carolina training facility can be repaired and upgraded.  

Aviation survival technician (AST) A-school will be moved to Training Center (TRACEN) Petaluma for at least the next three years, while renovations and construction at the Aviation Technical Training Center (ATTC) in Elizabeth City, N.C., are completed. 

For more than 30 years, candidates have come to the ATTC to train for the rescue swimmer program. It is one of the toughest U.S. military trainings, with just 75-100 trainees attending each year. ASTs are trained to save lives in the harshest of conditions from hurricanes and cliff rescues to emergency medical evacuations at sea. 

The training pool in Elizabeth City has received some damage as a result from training wear and tear, and the building there needs to be repaired, says Michael Linehan, an A-school instructor at the facility who helped transfer the training program to California. The renovated facility at Elizabeth City will be modernized inside and out.  

Outside of the geographic relocation to TRACEN Petaluma, the rescue swimmers’ training program remains unchanged and just as rigorous. The first class of 16 students have already completed their preparation course, reported for AST-A school, and began training in mid-January. Their training will span 24 weeks and includes intense physical fitness, long hours of pool fitness and instruction, extreme water-confidence drills, and classwork.  

Upon graduation, candidates must attend seven weeks of training at the Coast Guard’s Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) school, conveniently collocated at the same training center in Petaluma. After that, apprenticed ASTs are assigned to a Coast Guard air station where they will complete six months of training to qualify on their airframe, followed by their rescue swimmer syllabus to become a journeyman. 

Relocating the program to California presented its own challenges. Among the biggest, according to Linehan, was how to get conditioning equipment, including workout gear, weights, and other apparatus, across the country before course prep began in mid-November 2021. The initial plan was for Force Readiness Command (FORCECOM) to purchase and ship all-new equipment at a price tag of hundreds of thousands of dollars.   

Instead, the Coast Guard’s National Strike Force (NSF) stepped-in and was able to transport the existing 6,800 pounds of gear to TRACEN Petaluma. Through the help of NSF, the existing equipment was transported for only $20,000—a fraction of the cost of buying brand-new supplies.  

“It always amazes me when I get to see unique missions like this one come together and yield such an amazing product,” said Lt. Ryan A. Cantu, force manager for the NSF. 

“This assignment was an opportunity to showcase the true diversity of the NSF team on a nationwide level,” added Cantu. “These coordinated efforts between two senior commands were focused on accomplishing an intricate task.”