FORT HOOD, Texas –
Despite COVID-19's global impact, Soldier readiness and training goes on. Training sites must find alternate means to ensure instruction is executed while exercising safety precautions to safeguard Soldiers' well-being and the instructors who provide military education.
The Regional Training Site – Maintenance (RTS-M) Hood, 3rd Brigade (Ordnance), 94th Training Division-Force Sustainment (TD-FS), conducted a Wheeled Vehicle Recovery course at Fort Hood, Texas, held May 6-22, 2020.
During the 132-hour course, 12 active duty service members in the maintenance career field learned to operate and maintain recovery vehicles and related equipment to employ standard procedures for rigging, recovering, and towing vehicles. Although the 94th TD-FS is a reserve unit, its training capabilities span to the Active Duty and Nation Guard components, as well.
The Army Reserve instructors of the 94th TD-FS and students adhered to strict safety protocols throughout the course to protect against COVID-19 and other potential hazards. With implemented procedures to mitigate possible risks. The instructors and students wore masks in the classroom and during practical exercises. Cleanliness and sanitation procedures were a constant focus along with traditional protective measures generally associated with the course. Soldiers also kept a daily log of their off-duty interactions to assist with contact tracing in the event of a positive diagnosis for the virus.
Sgt. Amanda Alicea, a service maintenance and shop foreman assigned to the 68th Engineer Construction Company, attended the course to seize the opportunity to further her military career, and she shared her thoughts about the course before her arrival.
"I expected it to challenge me and was excited to get some new training," said Alicea." The course posed a challenge regarding unfamiliar material." Despite continuously being mindful of the virus, Alicea found the course most rewarding once she and her classmates successfully completed a practical exercise.
Alicea provides insight into critical aspects of the course that stood out to her and the instructor's performance. "Some key takeaways were learning the features of the equipment, like the HEMTT tow truck that used a heavy-duty crane and winch to recover disabled vehicles or the materials used for lifting operations", said Alicea.
The other notable part of the course for Alicea was the instructors who she holds in high regard. "The instructors were amazing. They were very knowledgeable and had a lot of experience to bring to the class."
With instructors being one of the more influential forces to military education, 94th TD-FS instructors gave their viewpoint of being selected to instruct during these times and experience teaching Soldiers during the pandemic.
Sgt. 1st Class Gregory Sterling, an RTS-M Hood instructor, expressed the effect COVID-19 had on him instructing Soldiers during the course. "The use of personal protective equipment took a bit to adjust to for both the instructors and the students, but eventually, wearing PPE became our everyday routine," said Sterling. "Other daily safety provisions also included temperature checks of the staff and students and answering a series of questions to gauge everyone's health."
Despite the uncertainties of the COVID-19 virus, Sterling answered the call to duty to instruct the Wheeled Vehicle course, which came with a great deal of pride. "I'm honored that my first line leaders had the confidence in me to accomplish this mission," he said.
"I knew the significance of what to expect to fulfill the role of being an instructor. I had mixed emotions because of the risk of this affecting my family in the long run," Sterling said. "However, I wouldn't change my decision to teach Soldiers. As a senior noncommissioned officer, this is what is expected with NCO's being the backbone of the Army."
Sgt. 1st Class Megan Burgess, an RTS-M Hood instructor, revealed how COVID-19 has brought about change to teaching Soldiers. "The pandemic more so forced us to modify our teaching styles due to pandemic requirements," she said. "I believe it forced us to be more creative with our classroom instruction and practical exercises."
"The continued course teaching allowed 94th TD-FS instructors to demonstrate their ability to adapt and overcome as a schoolhouse amid the pandemic," said Burgess, who believes that it's key to continue training in support of mission readiness.
For the service member of 10 years, being able to facilitate the execution of the RTS-M Hood mission to train Soldiers is essential.
"It's important that we can execute the mission while keeping our welfare and the welfare of our families in mind," said Burgess. "The Army doesn't stop its mission nor training when faced with new adversaries, but instead learns to adapt."