AWS3 Alexandra Roberts
US Navy Air Crewman and Rescue Swimmer
by Deb McCarson
On April 8, 1989, when her mother named her Alexandra, little did she know how accurately she was foreshadowing her daughter’s future. If you study the etymology of the name Alexandra, you will find that it means “defender of man.” More specifically, according to Greek mythology, “one who comes to save warriors.” Twenty-three years later, as a US Navy Air Rescue Swimmer, Alexandra literally is “one who comes to save warriors.”
Alex graduated from Pitman High School in 2007. She went on to Penn State University where she studied kinesiology and interned as as physical therapist. Feeling restless in that field, she decided to explore the possibility of a military career.
While researching the different options presented by the Navy, she overheard her recruiter explaining the challenges of search and rescue swimming to a young man nearby. While the young man quickly passed up the opportunity, Alex wondered if she had what it took to meet the challenge. She realized she would never be satisfied unless she tried. This would require that she pass a rigorous physical entry test required by all special programs applicants, including EOD, diver, and SEAL. Her recruiter offered her a wager. He would buy her dinner if she passed the PST on her first try. This was a risky bet for her, but not so much for her recruiter: none of his recruits had ever passed it on their first attempt. Alex, however, did. She is still waiting for her recruiter to pay up with a pork sandwich from Tony Luke’s.
A few weeks later, she was in boot camp. Aircrew school, where air crewman go through the rigors of survival training and physical conditioning, followed. As one of the top ten percent of her class, Alex qualified to move on to rescue swimmer training. Here she was required to make a one-mile swim in full flight gear and learn drown-proofing techniques. Imagine being immersed in fathoms of water shrouded in flight suit, helmet, boots, gloves, and having to swim, and keep swimming.
Once past the physical stamina of a mile swim weighed down by the extra pounds of water-soaked uniforms, Alex, as an SAR candidate, then experienced the “dunkers.” These are water-landing simulators that resemble multi-place helicopters on the inside. When the dunker hits the water, it rolls over and the candidates are in complete darkness as they quickly sink. Psychological discipline is immediately put to the test. After persevering through this test of mental stamina, training culminates with a course in land survival. Candidates are dropped off in remote areas to test their survival skills on a breakfast of champions: grubs, snakes and roots.
Alex began this SAR training as one of 23 students in her class. She was one of only five to graduate, and the 25th woman ever to make it through the course.
Her training didn’t end after graduation from search and rescue school. Alex went on to learn everything there is to know about her aircraft. Ask her anything about a MH 60S helicopter. She’ll be able to answer.
Finally finished her training, AWS3 Alexandra Roberts recently pulled up into her driveway on her Honda CBR 600 motorcycle. After the long, hot ride from Norfolk, she’s home for one last visit with family and friends before being deployed to the Persian Gulf on July 8, where she will be stationed in Bahrain. She speaks of the reality and the sadness of the necessity of her job, but not in fatalistic terms. She operates in strength and fortitude. She is trained, and she is ready. She and her comrades stand prepared to save lives, protect our freedom, and defend the basic human rights of those in foreign nations. They do it “So Others May Live.”
Thank you, Alex. Godspeed!
D. McCarson 2012
Debbie is a freelance writer living in Barnsboro with her husband and five sons. Having experienced the escapades of this gender override in her home for two decades, she thoroughly enjoys writing about issues relevant to women.
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