The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted much change in military operations. The military is conducting many day-to-day functions electronically, including fundamental U.S. Army training, since force health protection is the Army’s top priority.
For the first time, the Colorado Army National Guard’s 168th Regional Training Institute – one of only two multi-component schoolhouses – is holding its Basic Leader Course entirely online.
The only in-person interaction the students had with their instructors was when the instructors checked them in and issued them computers April 30, 2020, at the RTI, located at Fort Carson, Colorado Springs.
“Social distancing hinders schoolhouse training,” Commandant of the 168th RTI U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Geoffrey Essman said. “This Basic Leader Course will mimic a college course, but it is also interactive, so there will be virtual formations and classes led by small group leaders.”
The distributed learning “emergency” BLC was authorized by the Non-commissioned Officer Leadership Center of Excellence, in addition to the Master Leader Course and the Sergeants Major Academy. Essman said he expects the 168th to be the model for other academies, as he and his staff will share best practices and lessons learned throughout the course.
While typically a resident course, the Basic Leader Course gives junior enlisted Soldiers in the ranks of specialist and corporal the basic skills to lead and train small groups of Soldiers.
“Soldiers and squads are the foundation of our force,” Colorado’s Assistant Adjutant General, Army, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Doug Paul said. “It’s every Soldier’s duty to ensure that they are ready.”
This required 22-day program prepares Soldiers to advance to the rank of sergeant.
The course is not job dependent, so Soldiers from all Army occupational specialties and backgrounds are combined into one learning environment, one that has now moved from 169 hours in the classroom and field to online learning and communication platforms.
“It’s new for not only the Soldiers, but for us as the instructors,” U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Giovanni Fuentes, a 168th RTI senior small group leader said. “We’re still teaching them the same basic skills they would get during a typical BLC. We are confident we will give the Soldiers what they need to return to their units, even without the hands-on instruction we’re used to.”
During BLC, students experience a wide-ranging curriculum, to include drill and ceremony, physical readiness training, land navigation, interpersonal and written communication, and public speaking.
Essman said that eBLC will be rigorous, starting with a virtual formation in the morning when Soldiers will check in with their small group leaders with instruction continuing throughout the day.
Essman also said eBLC students will be held to the grooming and uniform standards of Army Regulation 670-1 during the duty day.
The BLC is a building block to developing the future leaders of the Army, and Essman said that it is also essential to retaining Soldiers.
“It makes a stronger Army,” he said. “One of the main reasons Soldiers leave the Army at the E4 level is because they’re waiting to go to BLC.
Another is the ripple effect. The longer Soldiers wait to get promoted to sergeant, the longer they must wait to pin subsequent ranks.”
The 168th RTI trains more than 2,400 BLC Soldiers every year, with most of them representing Fort Carson and the 4th Infantry Division.
Essman said his staff and instructors are prepared to administer the virtual BLC for as long as necessary.
“This may be the way ahead for a majority of Army training,” Essman said. “This could save the Army a lot of money, especially the Reserve and the National Guard and could not have happened without the support of Fort Carson.”