EASTOVER, SC – The South Carolina National Guard hosted a Basic Leadership Virtual Course (BLC) at the 218th Regional Training Institute (RTI) at the McCrady Training Center in June 2020 to train National Guard Soldiers from the army to become non-commissioned officers (NCO).
“This is a first in our history of the basic chef’s course conducted by the 3rd Battalion [Non-Commissioned Officer Academy] (NCOA), ”said 1st Sgt. Timothy Adams, 218th RTI, deputy commander of 3rd Battalion NCOA. “Future leaders of the United States military have come together on various platforms to learn the skills needed as they prepare to become a non-commissioned officer.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, RTI staff and facilitators have spent a lot of time preparing the virtual BLC to continue the mission of training future leaders.
“Soldiers participating in this class were assessed to the same standards as if they were taking a resident course,” Adams said.
The new BLC platform has proven to be a success, although there have been challenges.
“Using the virtual platform has been a challenge for our facilitators,” said Sgt. 1st Class Herman Logan, 218th RTI, 3rd Battalion NCOA Platoon Sergeant. “Some of the practical exercises performed in the resident version were difficult to do in a virtual environment. Some facilitators taught from two platforms at the same time, Microsoft Teams (CVR) and Defense Collaboration Services (DCS).
Logan said the students were very engaged. The biggest difference for the students was the conduct of group work.
“It’s difficult to do group work in a virtual environment,” Logan said. “And that was also a challenge for some animators, not in a negative way, but it got them thinking of creative ways to get the job done.”
During the Resident Course, Exercise, Ceremony and Physical Preparation (PRT) are performed daily, and more individual training is possible.
“After completing an online cycle, some information and reviews are mixed. While effective, I wouldn’t say it’s as beneficial as the Resident Course. Some major aspects are lost during the virtual course and cannot be compensated, ”said Command Sgt. Major Gabriel Brown, 218th RTI, commander of 3rd Battalion NCOA. “One major aspect that is lost is the actual daily conduct of the exercise and ceremony and the ERP with the students. These repetitions are vital for their knowledge, experience and physical fitness.
The 218th RTI also used this virtual opportunity to enable soldiers deployed around the world to attend BLC. Sgt. Wayne Craft, 4-118th Infantry Battalion, C Company team leader, is deployed to Kuwait and was able to attend the virtual course.
“The course went pretty well,” said Craft. “The only problem I encountered was internet connectivity. I worked in one of the NCO Academy buildings at Camp Buehring. The facilitators showed a lot of understanding and patience with this course. I arrived in class about three hours early to get everything ready and review the homework. Classes started around 3pm here and would end around 10pm.
While others attending the virtual BLC would come to their local preparation center to attend the virtual classes, some were able to attend from their homes. Everyone always had to be in uniform even if they were at home while performing their military duties.
“The virtual BLC went really well,” said Sgt. Katie Enos, health care sergeant for the 351st Aviation Support Battalion. “I was able to talk to my fellow soldiers and instructors. The quality of teaching has not been diminished at all by virtual support.
Enos was able to stay at home, using his common access card and his personal computer.
“I was still able to see my instructor demonstrate the movements [for drill and ceremony and PRT], and work with my classmates via live video, ”she said.
With the uncertainties associated with the pandemic, virtual courses could continue to be used to train future non-commissioned officers in the US military.