Nightly News   |  June 14, 2013

Pushed to the edge, Coast Guard swimmers train to save lives

The elite group of U.S. Coast Guard swimmers that rescue people from the sea undergo some of the military’s toughest training: an 18-week program that builds physical and mental strength. NBC’s Lester Holt reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we're back tonight with a rare look inside one of the most elite units of the u.s. military . the coast guard swimmers who get dropped into treacherous waters in life-threatening situations. they get ready for another busy season, lester holt spent time with them on a busy training mission in north carolina .

>> reporter: a disastrous end to an attempt to sail around hurricane sandy. the " hms bounty " sinking off the north carolina coast. by the time coast guard helicopters arrived, the crew had abandoned ship, lowered into waves up to 20 feet high, coast guard swimmers battle the way to get to them. of the 16 people on board, 14 found alive. now nearly 8 months later, with a new storm system under way, we join randy habba and other veterans of the "bounty" rescue on a training mission outside the outer banks . of the crew of four, only the rescue swimmer goes into the water, literally dropping into the thick of danger. they are considered the elite of the coast guard . their slogan? so that others may live.

>> get your feet up!

>> reporter: but, first, they have to live through 18 weeks of some of the military's toughest training.

>> let's go!

>> reporter: where the enemy is the sea and fear. drills push trainees to the edge of mental and physical exhaustion, because that's what they will face against an angry ocean.

>> maybe they can swim, but they don't know what to do.

>> reporter: out of a class of 18. josh and adam are the only ones left.

>> exciting, are we going down to a class of one?

>> my responsibility is to get him through here, and his responsibility is get me through here.

>> reporter: darkness, waves, even the rotor blast of a hovering helicopters are simulated, as they learn to rescue survivors in all kinds of conditions. i experienced first hand, even a simulated sinking at sea can be grueling t raining ensures that they will be the calm in the storm. lester holt , north carolina .