The Marine Combat Instructor of Water Survival (MCIWS) course is a grueling training program that requires Marines to swim a total of 59 miles over three weeks. The class that graduated on November 25 started with nine participants, but only six were able to complete the challenge. One of those six overcame significant adversity to graduate with his classmates.
Staff Sgt. Adam Jacks, company gunnery sergeant for Headquarters and Service Company at The Basic School, is a motivated, extremely fit, infantry Marine who said he quickly volunteered to attend the course when approached by the chief instructor trainer, Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Marshall. The fact that Jacks’ right leg was amputated at the mid-thigh in 2011 did not faze either Marine.
Jacks was serving in Afghanistan with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, located in Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, when he stepped on a pressure plate on April 3, 2011, and was hit by an improvised explosive device blast. Among other injuries, Jacks suffered a traumatic brain injury and lost part of his right leg.
Though he could have been medically retired, Jacks said he “fought pretty hard to stay in” on active duty. “I wasn’t ready to hang up the uniform and turn the page into a new chapter. I felt…that I could help shape the Marine Corps into this new age style of fighting, even with half of a leg, and…show Marines of all ranks and ages that it still can be done.”
Jacks requested to be placed in an expanded permanent limited duty status, and, after months of evaluations and paperwork, he was granted permission to continue serving on active duty.
Jacks said he has about “20 different legs, and each has a unique purpose.” He has one for everyday activities, one for patrolling, and one for running, among others. However, what he lacked before starting the course was a leg that would help him swim.
“If I don’t have one that works well for the situation, that will set me up for failure,” Jacks said. Because of the asymmetry in his body, Jacks said at first he would roll in the water, and “the first week [of the MCIWS course] was pretty hellacious because I had to relearn how to swim properly and use my upper body.” He recounted having to fight feelings of vertigo from the lack of balance.
Marshall said he and Jacks worked together to improvise a buoyant prosthesis that would enable him to stay at a level position in the water. Even with the buoyant leg, Jacks had to put in dozens of extra training hours to become more proficient, frequently staying at the pool up to two hours after the other students had left for the day.
“We were not going to lower the standard,” Marshall said. “We were going to work with him to help him reach it,” and the standard was high. According to Marshall, the Marines had to complete conditioning swims up to 1,900 meters in length, including three that were timed; swim 25 meters underwater; complete four American Red Cross (ARC) rescues with the aid of lifesaving equipment and four without; and pass all the academic/classroom evaluations.
According to Jacks, “there were naysayers,” people telling him he wouldn’t be able to complete the course missing a limb. Jacks kept a positive outlook, however.
“You press on with it,” he said. “You use the adversities as fuel to get you through.”
After graduating, Jacks is now certified as an MCIWS instructor and ARC lifeguard.
This article was adapted from an original story by Maj. Eve Baker.