DUBLIN, Calif. –
“NCOs Make It Happen!” The cadre of the U.S. Army Noncommissioned Officer Academy Camp Parks recently lived up to their motto by leading the way into history by graduating the first virtual Basic Leader Course for the U.S. Army Reserve earlier this month.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Department of Defense travel ban, the NCOAs under the 83rd U.S. Army Reserve Readiness Training Center, transformed BLC virtually using distributed learning platforms. BLC, traditionally a 23-day resident course, includes instruction on drill and ceremony, physical readiness training, writing, and public speaking, to name a few.
Leaders at the NCOA Parks encountered several challenges while transforming a course from resident to virtual delivery. Under the direction and guidance of the NCO Leadership Center of Excellence, NCOA Parks was able to create the virtual course in less than two weeks.
“The biggest challenge was quickly deciding on the “how” given the different capabilities and limitations at all the noncommissioned officer academies,” said NCOA Parks Commandant, Command Sgt. Maj. James C. Stoots.
Using technology and platforms such as Defense Collaboration Service and the online academic tool, Blackboard, learners, and cadre were able to engage in chatroom breakout groups and participate in group discussions throughout the course.
Maintaining the academic integrity of the course while both learners and cadre worked from their homes, provided challenges, which were worked through unique ways. Learners recorded themselves during interactive assessments like conducting a brief and conducting a PRT session. Learners would then submit recorded videos for their facilitators to review and provide feedback.
Executing an entirely new method of instruction is a unique challenge, and it was clear some Soldiers were not prepared.
“You can definitely tell there are frustrations from students,” said NCOA Parks, Small Group Leader, Staff Sgt. Emmanuel H. Perez.
However, Perez also stated the majority of learners thrived in the new medium, and it was encouraging to see the level of potential in the newest leaders of the Army Reserve.
The virtual course was not without its logistical problems. The technology was the resounding issue both learners and cadre faced during the cycle.
“There was the delay in completing simple tasks and many Soldiers lacking the ability to navigate the web or use their equipment properly,” Perez explained.
“DCS gave us some bad days with connectivity,” echoed BLC’s Chief of Training, Master Sgt. Alonzo M. Cook. “Blackboard and DoD Safe also gave us some bad days with connectivity, but we were able to adapt to overcome those adversities to continue the Army’s mission in training our future leaders.”
The use of phone conferences filled in the gaps when DCS was down.
“My BLC Cadre has proven to be the most agile leaders during this pandemic,” Cook added.
Another drawback to a virtual delivery of a leadership course was the element of enforcing the leadership aspect among both the learners and cadre.
“Taking turns in certain leadership roles and actually living in the environment with other Soldiers was the element missing,” voiced NCOA Park's Deputy Commandant, Sergeant Maj. Aaron M. Stubenvoll. “Getting in front of other Soldiers is a critical piece that is difficult to express virtually.”
Cook took a similar stance stating, the major investment lost with virtual BLC is future leaders’ personable interactions in establishing their network.
He also emphasized the importance of the personal relationships formed during PME and how they play a role in developing a leader’s foundation. Determined to make the most of their experience, the learners quickly adapted to new methods of connecting with each other.
“Some learners used Microsoft Teams, while others communicated through text message threads,” explained Perez. “Most Soldiers are creative and tech-savvy; it was challenging, but not impossible.”
“We understood from the beginning that the methods would be unorthodox and not what most are used to, but we encouraged them to keep an open mind,” Perez added.
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed stress on Soldiers’ lives and has forced Soldiers across the Army Reserve to adapt.
Using the skills and qualifications as Master Resilience Trainers, NCOA Parks cadre were able to keep the learners motivated and positive throughout the course.
The Parks Reserve Forces Training Area ministry team and Resilience Performance Center have been very supportive of both our cadre and learners, mentioned Stoots.
NCOA Parks, along with its sister Academies, NCOA McCoy, and NCOA Dix, will continue to conduct BLC virtually as long as the operational environment demands it.
“The Army doesn’t stop, and the enemy doesn’t quit, so we must always maintain our readiness no matter the face of the enemy, even in a world-wide pandemic,” said 83rd U.S. ARRTC Commander, Col. Steven F. Egan. “We, the Army Reserve, must be ready when called upon, so we must continue to train and be ready!”