Ranger School on the water, and fire in the sky.

A rather obscure episode in the Army Special Forces Combat Dive Academy occurred when the Academy offered the six-week waterborne surface operations course in Key West, FL, in 1989. The course named Waterborne Infiltrations Course (WIC) was a grueling one. It included every waterborne surface operation known to Special Forces in the day. I personally attended the pilot course but missed the second course because I was relocating to Key West from Ft. Lewis, WA, to take an assignment as an instructor at the Academy. I was a fully established instructor for the third and final course.

Waterborne Infiltration Course
Pipe-hitters conducting an Over the Beach at the end of a long surface swim infiltration.

“Third and final course? That doesn’t sound right at all.”

I mean, how long would you expect it to take to develop a six-week Program of Instruction (POI) that is largely performance-oriented? I have an answer: It took the cadre one year of preparation prior to presenting WIC. That was a year of sending men to schools, courses, and training seminars to glean the expertise necessary to be able to present and instruct with confidence.

That was a year of moonlight effort: that is, the development of WIC was done on the periphery of the full schedule of Combat Diver, Dive Supervisor, and Dive Medical Technician courses that were already on the Academy’s plate. And the year WIC began there was still the full contingent of underwater operations courses on the schedule.

“But that would be impossible.”

A tactical kayak movement on inland waterways.

I agree it was impossible, but it was accomplished nonetheless. Let’s mull over that Return on Investment (ROI) for a moment. 54 weeks of preparation for 18 weeks of course execution and about 150 men trained. That is a categorical failure in any business model. What happened, and who is to blame for the cataclysmic failure of the Waterborne Infiltrations Course — the WIC? I won’t have an opinion on the matter, but I’ll give the facts — just the facts, Ma’am.

The WIC was quickly and aptly nicked “Ranger School on Water” by the men from the SF group who attended it. It included boat work with Combat Rubber Raiding Craft (CRRC), Kayaks, surface swimming, long-range maritime navigation, Cast and Recover, paradrops with CRRC (rubber duck), Kangaroo Duck, Rubber Duck, Pallet Duck, tides and currents computations, weather considerations, dangerous sea life recognition, long-range kayak navigation… I can’t even remember all of the subjects. It was one of the most rigorous courses in the military for the three months that it lived.