Ben H. Swett
Colonel USAF (Retired)

I attended the USAF Sea Survival School at Homestead AFB, Florida, in 1969, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The concept was that aircrew members should actually use their emergency equipment and procedures under controlled conditions before they encountered a situation in which they would have to do it to save their lives.

Sea survival equipment included several types of parachutes, flotation devices, life rafts, emergency radios, survival kits, and helicopter rescue hoists.There were indoor classes in which instructors demonstrated each piece of equipment, described the situations in which we would need to use it, taught us the proper procedures, and had us go through those procedures ourselves. Then the outdoor classes tested our use of the equipment in a series of small adventures under realistic but controlled conditions. I remember thinking, "People would pay to do this."

Diz da place.

OK, lemme attum!

Now, all ya hafta do is ...

Itza long way UP there!



Easy as falling off a log.

Trolling for sharks.

Is this trip necessary?

And away we go!

Faster, you idiot!

That's better!

Hurry up, there's sharks in here.

Wanna lift? Don't mind if I do.

Swamp fishing.

Oh, there you are!

I am hanging on!

Gee, it's nice to be anywhere on solid ground.

The Best Beer

At the end of the parasail ride, the boat stopped and I descended into the water. The boat crew recovered the parasail, and I crawled into my little survival raft (aka "butt boat"). There was already a long line of students strung out across Biscayne Bay, about thirty yards apart, and another student arrived via parasail about every ten minutes.

My first concern was to get my head covered against the sun. There was a piece of rubberized fabric for that, attached to the life raft. Then I bailed the water out of the raft, dumped the water out of my boots, laid out my soggy cigarettes on the side of the raft to dry, and settled down for a long day in Biscayne Bay.

It was HOT out there. As the seawater evaporated, it left a crust of salt on my skin and in my flight suit that itched and burned. I had to wash the salt off my lips, but that was only temporary relief. There was no drinking water in the raft. After a few hours, I was very hot and very, very thirsty.

Suddenly, I heard a voice shout, "Hey, lady! Have you got a beer?" It was the man in the next raft, about thirty yards away. I looked where he was looking and saw a large, lovely sailing yacht approaching near me to cross the line of students.

A lady in the yacht looked at me and asked me, "Would you like a beer?" I pointed at the other man over my shoulder and said, "Yes, please, and one for him." She disappeared into the cabin. The man who was sailing the yacht let the sails luff, and as he brought it alongside my raft, she reached out and handed me two cans of ice cold beer. I said, "Thank you!" She smiled and waved and the yacht went on its way. I paddled over to the other man and gave him his beer.

That was the best beer I ever had.

When I finished the beer, I thought, "No one is going to believe this," and put the empty can in a flight suit pocket.

Toward sundown a helicopter fished us out of the water and took us back to the base for debriefing.

I told the debriefing officer about the lady on a yacht who gave us a beer, but he just laughed and said, "You must have been hallucinating! Too much sun can do that, you know." I put the empty beer can on the table, but he said, "You weren't supposed to take that with you." As I started to say I didn't take it with me, the man from the next raft walked up to us and put HIS empty can on the table. The debriefing officer laughed again and said, "NOW I believe you! And I'll bet that was the best beer you ever had!"

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