As the COVID-19 outbreak continues, many U.S. National Guard units throughout the country have turned to online and virtual training methods to maintain readiness while meeting social distancing protocols.
“Right now, our priority remains protecting the force and the family [and] making sure our team’s health and safety is a priority,” said Air Force Col. David Schevchik, commander of the Vermont Air National Guard’s 158th Fighter Wing, adding that online training is an innovative approach to ensure required training continues.
“We also have to contribute to making sure that we continue to support our state mission and the community and continue the federal mission that we have been entrusted with,” Schevchik said.
Much of that online training has been completed by Guard members at home instead of scheduled in-person training at their units, said Col. Steven Fairbourn, head of the Utah Army National Guard’s plans and operations directorate. He said the online training is geared for individuals, rather than collective or unit-based tasks.
“A unit’s readiness begins with individual training and progressively builds with various levels,” he said. “While collective training events are not tenable during the COVID-19 crisis, we can complete a multitude of individual training, including areas like operations security, anti-terrorism, information security, code of conduct, risk management and more.”
For other Guard members, online training is focused on their specific job.
“As an example, [our] civil engineering squadron had many refresher and safety videos for their airmen in HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning], heavy equipment and fire prevention,” said Senior Master Sgt. Joseph Pearison, with the Indiana Air National Guard’s 181st Intelligence Wing.
For some Guard members, virtual training isn’t possible, including a Utah Army Guard aviation unit preparing for deployment.
“As they prepare to deploy with their Apache helicopters, it is not feasible for them to accomplish the required training and certifications remotely,” said Fairbourn. “Thus, in mission-essential circumstances such as this, soldiers [will] conduct collective training [while] employing all appropriate social-distancing etiquette where possible.”
For those taking part in online drills, accessibility is key, said Pearison.
“We used a platform that our airmen are familiar with,” he said, adding additional steps were taken to ensure airmen could access that platform from a variety of locations and devices.
Some Guard members, however, may feel the virtual training is a bit different from training together as a unit.
“The feel of virtual training will vary from what all of our members have grown accustomed to and enjoy,” said Fairbourn.
But, said Chief Master Sgt. Darin Mauzy, the command chief master sergeant of the 158th FW, the online training model may feel different, but it’s another way to ensure high readiness levels.
“We haven’t done something quite like this before, but we are certainly postured for it in a world where online learning takes place,” he said.
For Air Force Capt. Josh Rohrer, commander of the Missouri Air National Guard’s 139th Maintenance Flight, it’s all about innovation.
“Our members have been coming up with innovative ways to train,” he said. “We’ve been letting our members run with it.”
More than 29,400 Guard members in 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia are on duty as part of COVID-19 response efforts.