Rescue swimming is one of the Coast Guard’s most hazardous jobs. It involves helicopters, raging storms, heavy seas, ice-cold waters, floating debris, sometimes combative and frightened survivors, and unfriendly drug runners who dump their illegal cargo when they spot a Coast Guard vessel.
Williams is an avid jogger and participated in many races while stationed in Puerto Rico and met many ASTs, or aviation survival technicians. Several asked if she ever had considered AST and rescue swimming training. Others suggested that she apply.
The dentist she worked with had a friend who offered to teach her swimming basics during lunch breaks and after work every day for two weeks. She also had a two-a-half year wait for an opening in the training program.
Becoming a rescue swimmer is no easy task even for good swimmers. It is considered an elite Coast Guard’s program with the most challenging physical fitness standards of all U.S. military services. Men and women trainees have to meet the same physical requirements. About 75 rescue swimmers are trained a year. Fewer than half make it.
Though Williams initially couldn’t swim, she knew she met other important requirements for the job. She was comfortable in the water. She could keep a cool head in stressful situations. She is not a quitter.
In fact, if you ask her what it takes to be a rescue swimmer, she answers with four words: “The No-Quit Factor.”
“I’m a firm believer that it’s a mind thing,” she said. “What they’re looking for is a mental toughness. There’s no one thing that makes a good rescue swimmer. We’re all different. What rescue swimmers have in common is that we don’t buckle under pressure and we don’t quit.”
Her year-and-half of training included four months of airman training, six months airman duty, four months in aviation survival technicians training, plus an intensive four-weeks of emergency medical technician training.