A day with U.S. Coast Guard Aviation Survival Technicians

Coast Guard rescue Swimmer in action
Coast Guard rescue Swimmer in action

What is an Aviation Survival Technician?

Aviation Survival Technician is the term used by the United States Coast Guard for its “rescue swimmers.” They are trained at the U.S. Coast Guard’s Aviation Survival Technician/Rescue Swimmer school at Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Rescue swimmers are part of a team and when they’re not out doing rescues, they have other duties as Aviation Survival men and women, maintaining the survival equipment that the pilots and other aircrew depend on.


The Coast Guard realized that they need to have their own rescue swimmers after many tragedies at sea. On September 10, 1984 ASM2 Steve Ober and ASM3 Kelly Gordon became the first Coast Guard personnel to begin and complete the four-week rescue swimmer course, graduating on October 5, 1984. Petty Officers Ober and Gordon were joined not long after that by more people that eventually became rescue swimmers. On May 23, 1986, ASM3 Kelly M. Mogk became the first female to graduate from rescue swimmer school.

The rescue swimmer training school has one of the highest student drop out rates of any special operations school in the military. About 75 students go through the school each year and less than half graduate. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Thor Wentz, who helps run the school says that many candidates give up before stepping foot in the pool.


To go to rescue swimmer training school, which is known to Coasties as “A-School,” you need to enlist in the Coast Guard and go to boot camp, from there you go and try to complete the initial 18-week training course at the Aviation Technical Training Center in Elizabeth City, NC. The school tries to make sure that graduates have flexibility, strength, endurance, and the ability to function for 30 minutes in heavy seas.

After graduation AST’s are required to complete Coast Guard EMT School located at the Technical Training Center Petaluma, CA and successfully pass the National Registry EMT exam which allows them to provide basic pre-hospital life support for those that are rescued. Then they are sent out to a Coast Guard Air Station.

The Coast Guard operates approximately 210 aircraft from 24 Coast Guard Air Stations in the United States. There is one station in Hawaii. Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point is located on the southwest shore of Oahu, in Kapolei, about 20 miles west of downtown Honolulu.

My visit to CG Air Station Barber’s Point

On July 14, 2015 I visited the Coast Guard AST’s at their Barbers Point Air Station. My Skipper set the whole thing up so that I could have this amazing experience with them. The Rescue swimmers that I met were Kevin Mattina, Mr.Walker and their chief. Kevin and Mr.Walker where both legit rescue swimmers.

Learning about the equipment the AST's use
Learning about the equipment the AST’s use

Kevin gave me a tour of their station, he showed me the HH-65 helicopter and the C-130 airplane. He told me how everything works and talked about what it would be like to actually be in a situation where they would need to deploy someone from the HH-65.

I learned so much but the 2 things that really stood out to me was when Mr. Walker said “you need to own your weight.” It doesn’t matter what size you are, but being able to pull or push your weight up and lower yourself down and to know your limits is really the key. The second thing is that you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way.

In the cockpit of an HH-65
In the cockpit of an HH-65 “Dolphin” helicopter

While Kevin took me into the HH-65, AKA The Dolphin, he really got into detail of what they do in there and how they do it. My favorite part of this visit was being able to hangout with the 2 Coast Guard AST’s and being able to learn all the things that they do, being able to go on the HH-65 and the C130 was amazing, even though we weren’t flying I could imagine what it would be like.

The C-130
The C-130

Before I visited the Barbers Point Coast Guard station I wasn’t really positive that I wanted to become an AST but after that visit I made it a goal of mine that one day I will hopefully become a AST. This trip has really changed my point of view on things. If you work hard and don’t give up you will succeed, try your hardest and if you can’t do something try it again, You really have to have the right mind set. Meeting Kevin and Mr. Walker helped me better understand how to reach my goal by showing me what they do and talking to them made me realize that my goal is realistic. I have created this daily work out schedule for myself in order to prepare for the the A School’s physical test. It is based off some of the AST workouts:


40 Push ups (in 2 minutes or less)

50 Sit ups (Fold arms over chest and do in 2 minutes or less)

1 Minute plank

4 Pull ups (Legs need to be straight)

4 Chin ups (Legs need to be straight)

100 Squats


1.5 Mile run (in 12 minutes or less)

500 Meter swim (in 12 minutes or less)

50 Meter swim (Must be Underwater)

One important thing that both Kevin and Mr. Walker told me about swim training is that no matter how good of a swimmer you are, even if you’re one of the best on your high school swim team for instance, it’s difficult to get used to swimming with fins on. You use different muscles with fins on than in regular swimming and for both of them it was one of the hardest parts of their AST training. So, I plan to train in fins before I go to A School and I am really glad they gave me that tip.

With AST3 Kevin Mattina
With AST3 Kevin Mattina

It was amazing that I had the chance to visit the Coast Guard Station at Barber’s Point and for those that did not get to have this chance, I want you to know that if you always try your hardest and never give up, you can do anything!

-By Tessa R.



Tessa R. is the Aloha Council Boatswain and a member of Ship 11, “Decisive” on the island of Kauai, Hawaii.

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