KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany –
With the onset of COVID-19 and social distancing, many classrooms around the world have moved to a virtual learning environment to protect students, and the Army classroom is no different.
Junior enlisted Soldiers stationed near Kaiserslautern are taking part in a virtual Basic Leader Course through the first part of May, most of which is being taught in 20 different classrooms across four countries in Europe by instructors with the 7th Army Noncommissioned Officer Academy out of Grafenwoehr, Germany.
Although the primary classroom blocks of instruction are being taught virtually, two U.S. Army Reserve NCOs from the 7th Mission Support Command are filling in all the hands-on leadership gaps as assistant instructors for their students attending the class on Daenner Kaserne.
“We’re assisting with any type of computer issues or any follow-on questions,” said Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Chefan, a detachment sergeant with the 446th Transportation Battalion, 510th Regional Support Group, 7th MSC, and BLC assistant instructor. “But we’re also doing all the grading for physical readiness training, drill and ceremony, and the day-to-day…the formations, the accountability, the leadership evaluations, that’s on us.”
BLC is a required four-week Army leadership course for junior enlisted Soldiers who are working toward the rank of sergeant. Though it’s never been done virtually with locally-based assistant instructors, training leaders is nothing new for these 7th MSC NCOs, who worked together previously as instructors at the Fort McCoy NCO Academy in Wisconsin.
“Basic Leader Course requires more hands-on (training), so I think it’s been working well with me and SFC Chefan because we have the experience as BLC instructors and we know what’s expected,” said Sgt. 1st Class Roi Cavan, human resources noncommissioned officer-in-charge with the 361st Civil Affairs Brigade, 7th MSC, and BLC assistant instructor. “That’s the part with leadership, where we need to be here physically. We need to be with the students because how are they going to get that experience of becoming an NCO without experiencing it through a training environment.”
Abiding by local social distancing guidelines, students in the Daenner Kaserne class are still being evaluated on many different types of leadership roles, from formations and marching to classroom cleanliness.
“I think it’s cool to be here in Germany with the first virtual BLC for class instruction, but when we’re here, we still have that in-person leadership that helps us develop,” said Spc. Nicholas Hopkins, a biomedical equipment technician with U.S. Army Medical Materiel Center-Europe, and BLC student. “It’s been nice because at the end of the day, you can go home and relax a little bit but at the same time, it helps you with your own personal accountability and responsibility because you have to plan for traffic and make sure to get up on time.”
Cavan and Chefan agree that training to lead, whether virtually or physically, is the fun stuff for NCOs, and it’s in their comfort zones.
“You don’t really get to lead and train troops all the time, but we’re going back to the basics here where we can build that foundation of what an NCO is supposed to be,” said Cavan. “And we’re hitting both components – active and Reserve, so that’s really awesome.”
“We’re all going through this together,” said Chefan. “It’s cool to be a part of history.”