GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Petty Officer Kris Grimm, a Coast Guard survival rescue swimmer, explains the teamwork it takes so the pilot of an HH-65C Dolphin helicopter can get within 15 feet of the crest of a wave so he can jump and pull off a rescue. CLICK FOR LARGE
Training tough for sea guardians
A new film offers a realistic look at the training and sacrifice of Coast Guard rescue swimmers
COAST GUARD Petty Officer Kris Grimm looks like he could serve as a model for one of the characters in Kevin Costner's latest film, "The Guardian," depicting the training and the lives of the service's elite survival rescue swimmers.
Grimm, 26, is no movie character, but one of 10 survival rescue swimmers assigned to the Barbers Point Coast Guard Air Station at Kalaeloa.
Four years ago, Grimm, who had come to Hawaii to surf, decided to make the Coast Guard a career because "it was a service that is geared every day to saving someone's life in the ocean."
The movie, which opened nationwide Friday, already has received rave reviews from Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O'Hara, who heads the 14th District in the Pacific. She described the Costner film as "very true" and "accurate in telling the Coast Guard story."
In it, Costner plays a Coast Guard instructor who is deeply affected by the loss of his swimmer rescue team from an accident. Ashton Kutcher portrays a troubled youth who enlists in the survival school.
The movie depicts the personal sacrifice and demanding physical training the elite Coast Guard rescuers must go through in preparation of their only job and responsibility to save lives at sea.
Brice-O'Hara and Coast Guard officials obviously are hoping that Costner's movie will reap the same recruiting benefits that Tom Cruise's 1986 movie "Top Gun" did for Navy aviation. Nearly 100 "coasties" served as extras or provided technical assistance for the movie.
Grimm attended the Coast Guard's five-month "A" aviation survival technician school in Elizabeth, N.C., where parts of Costner's film were filmed, three years ago.
"The hardest part," Grimm said, "was the physical training every single day."
The course also included eight weeks of survival training.
To qualify for the "A" school, candidates had "to be able to withstand rough seas for 30 minutes," Grimm added, and be able to swim 500 yards; do 50 pushups, 60 sit-ups, five pull-ups and five chin-ups; and swim 25 yards underwater. "All of this had to be done within an hour and half."
In the movie "The Guardian," a troubled young man (played by Ashton Kutcher, right) enlists in the Coast Guard, where he is taken in by a renowned rescue swimmer (Kevin Costner).
Grimm's class started with 12 candidates. However, only four survived and graduated.
Although none of the 10 survival rescue swimmers stationed in Hawaii are female, there are three in the Coast Guard -- two stationed in Los Angeles and one in Atlantic City.
Grimm said he loves being a rescue swimmer and being challenged every day.
"I just love being in the position of helping other people and being part of a Coast Guard team," he said.
To be part of a four-member HH-65C Dolphin helicopter rescue crew, Grimm also had to qualify as an emergency medical technician and be able to administer medical care.
"We really work as a team," Grimm said, "with the pilot and co-pilot responsible for flying the helicopter and the flight mechanic not only responsible for maintaining the aircraft, but also working the hoist.
"We train daily to make us ready for things like (Hurricane) Katrina."
Grimm said all rescue swimmers are trained to jump from the helicopters from heights as high as 30 feet.
"Working with the pilot," Grimm said, "we time the free fall jump so we hit the crest of the wave."
Since arriving here two years ago, Grimm has been involved in rescue missions involving three sinking vessels and in March was part of the search and rescue efforts that occurred after the fresh water dam burst on Kauai.
Besides jumping out of helicopters and other macho activities, Grimm said one of the surprising requirements expected of survival swimmers are sewing skills.
"We have to learn how to sew at 'A' school. That's because we are required to maintain parachutes and other equipment."