VaANG Airmen innovate, adapt as drills become remote

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Lucretia Cunningham

When the shelter-in-place order was issued in Virginia, the state’s National Guard units were no exception to the rule. Regularly scheduled drills in April, May and June were to be conducted remotely, setting a new precedent for education managers and unit leadership to reassess their approach.


For Virginia Air National Guardsmen like Master Sgt. Justin Self, an education and training senior noncommissioned officer in charge with the 192nd Security Forces Squadron, this was an opportunity to adapt, innovate and overcome. During April’s drill, Self was successful in leveraging five digital platforms to garner a virtual drill with a 100 percent squadron participation rate. 


Self’s virtual training model has kept the unit on track with its annual training plan and has been lauded by the National Guard Bureau as an example to be shared with security forces units across the country. 


The 192nd SFS drill-status Guardsmen started their Saturday in April as they would any other by signing-in for roll call. But that weekend, they used the digital business communication platform, Slack, to do so. Airmen also tuned into events including a virtual commander’s brief and an enlistment, and they accessed training material and classrooms before completing quizzes via GoogleSuite.


With glowing feedback from the trainings’ participants, Self is looking to implement the approach within a few hours during the month, leaving more time for training events that require meeting in person during drill weekends. 


“For security forces, it’s important we get our hands on to train on weapons and to move together as a unit,” said Maj. Jim Bergren, 192nd SFS commander. “This model will have a lasting impact on us as we’ve validated that it works, and we can use it to accomplish classroom requirements and have more time for hands-on training to become better defenders.”


Aircraft maintenance Airmen, who spend most of their drill weekends on the flightline, also found a model they said they’ll continue to use even after in-person drills resume. In the 192nd Maintenance Group video “Left Seat/Right Seat” feedback sessions, SNCOs like Master Sgt. Luke Dobbs, 192nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron flight chief, gave lessons on feedback to noncommissioned officers he supervises and then virtually sat in to observe as the NCOs provided feedback to their Airmen. 


One of the session’s goals was to establish lines of communication between supervisor and subordinate, to which Dobbs said is maintained outside of drill and becomes a specific contact Airmen know they can call should they need to. Another goal was to provide a creative method during an unprecedented time to ensure Airmen and leadership development through feedback.  


“When you have a unit of this size, with such an important mission of flightline maintenance, you need a really strong NCO corps and SNCO corps to operate it,” said Lt. Col. Frances Dixon, 192nd AMXS commander. “These sessions fall in line with our natural planning for the future in making sure everyone is thinking about the career they want and where they want to aspire to, and a lot of that is foundational with timely and actionable feedback.”


Video platforms like Zoom also proved significant in remote drill, and when Maj. Kathleen Chiarantona, 192nd Maintenance Squadron operations officer, said it’d be most beneficial to lay eyes on Airmen in the unit. 


Chiarantona, who is a social worker outside of the Guard, collaborated with Chief Master Sgt. Gregg Allen, 192nd MXG quality assurance chief, to organize a Resiliency Tactical Pause during May’s drill weekend. 


“We actually felt it more important to do an [RTP] during this time,” Chiarantona said. “This is the moment when we need to be able to connect with each other because that’s what RTP is about. It’s about connection, building connections that allow people to recognize that we are all on the spectrum of humanity, and that we can all help each other wherever we are.” 


MXG Airmen volunteered to guide one of the 23 small groups in a discussion related to spiritual health which Chiarantona said people seemed more open and relaxed. The conversation organically turned into casual laughing, joking, showing off their latest home projects, and more importantly, celebrations for each other’s resiliency during this time.