COVID Drives Navy Training to Innovate

By Edward Lundquist
The Center for Information Warfare Training and IWTC Corry Station onboard Naval Air Station Pensacola Corry Station, Pensacola, Florida.

Navy photo by Glenn Sircy

Restricted movement of personnel caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is prompting the Navy to take innovative approaches to providing course instruction.

At the Naval Leadership and Ethics Center, Newport, Rhode Island, Capt. Harry Marsh, prospective executive officer and commanding officer instructor, said training has evolved from rigid curriculum-based, instructor-led classes to facilitated command-level discussions.

“We still have instructor guides and training objectives, but there’s less rigor in exactly how we present that information. We have more flexibility,” he said.

While much of the training relies on the students sharing their own experiences in dealing with various issues related to managing and leading their units, the pandemic has forced some changes in how training is delivered. However, Marsh said, some of the instruction actually works better in a virtual environment.

“We are guiding them to listen, think and write their ideas down, because that uses a different part of the brain, and then we match the students in pairs, one-on-one, to discuss their ideas. In the classroom, even though it’s a one-on-one discussion, there are still people around and other conversations in the classroom,” Marsh said.

“We can get into issues that people are uncomfortable talking about in large groups, but in a Zoom environment, when I put them in a breakout room, it’s just the two people,” he added. “It allows the students to really open up and discuss, and develop something that’s a really useful product.”

Capt. Dave Stoner, commanding officer at the Center for Surface Combat Systems, stressed the importance of balancing risk to mission and risk to force.

“It is imperative that we continue to provide training to fleet sailors and waterfront training to our ships while protecting the health of our workforce and families,” said Stoner.

“Therefore, we have explored and implemented distributed technology into our mission-essential training.”

Dr. Jeffery Temple, CSCS chief technology officer, said COVID-related restricted movement of personnel called for an innovative approach to providing course instruction at remote locations. Where the center used to send instructors to locations to teach, they became innovative in adopting technology to virtually send the instructor to the remote classroom.

Instructors in San Diego taught the Computer Aided Dead Reckoning Tracer course to students in Yokosuka, Japan, and a Tactical Tomahawk Weapons System Engineering course was taught from the Naval Air Station Oceana Dam Neck Annex in Virginia, to students at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, utilizing the appropriate classification teleconferencing capability and local assets.

The center also looked at where instruction could be recorded and uploaded to Navy secured servers for viewing by incoming students, Temple said.

The Defense Collaboration Services allows for dial-in teleconferencing and presentations. This tool is available on both classified and unclassified government networks, he added.

According to Temple, the majority of newer tools and applications increase the need for more bandwidth and higher fidelity systems. CSCS is working with its Office of the Chief of Naval Operations sponsor and other learning centers and commands to implement the Surface Training Advanced Virtual Environment to develop and integrate training labs, devices, simulations, networks and training scheduling systems.

As with all network collaboration, investments are being made to improve the network infrastructure, both classified and unclassified. The programs are being developed to manage, conduct and assess local and distributed training. The training encompasses laboratories, where local and remote instructors teach and assess maintenance and operational personnel in various fundamental and complex technical concepts, and integrated combat system and bridge teams conducting basic through advanced tactical scenarios.

Temple said some of the coordination was already in the works, but has been stepped up by the pandemic.

The Center for Surface Combat Systems is collaborating with the Submarine Learning Center to learn more about its Submarine On-Board Trainer, Temple said. The surface training community is in the process of implementing a similar system based on technical expert knowledge to produce a repository of video snippets designed to enhance instruction and elaborate on difficult maintenance steps in a YouTube-like format called TEKTube.

“We want to get this capability directly to the ships in addition to our schoolhouses,” Temple said.

Distributed training — locally and across the nation — was already on the Navy’s horizon, but was needed much earlier than the infrastructure could support, Temple said.

Future plans revolve around distributed training and how to get instruction, communication and information disseminated without the need for everyone to be at one site, he said.

“We’re looking at how to train the instructors to teach electronically, which many have never experienced. Evaluation of our curriculum is also being performed with instructional design in mind for how best to train the material, and how to distribute this training,” Temple said.

“The biggest lesson is ‘don’t wait for a pandemic to enact what needs to be done,’” he added.

Stoner said the Center for Surface Combat Systems has been able to maintain readiness.

“By developing new, innovative ways of training, CSCS has graduated more students at this point in the year than we did in 2019,” he said. “We have completed 95 percent of our scheduled training and made up the majority of the other 5 percent. We must continue to take measures to limit COVID-19’s spread, while also ensuring our sailors are ready to fight and win.”

The Center for Information Warfare Training, meanwhile, “has dedicated a lot of time and energy on the COVID response, tracking metrics and reporting and ensuring that up-echelon has the visibility of myriad data of those exposed, exhibiting symptoms, in restricted movement, in quarantine, in isolation; and tracking the numbers of students and classes impacted, delays on the back end where we have impacts to follow-on training, or ultimately training supporting the fleet,” said Capt. Marc Ratkus, the center’s commanding officer.

According to Cmdr. Zachary Mc­Keehan, commanding officer of the Information Warfare Training Command Corry Station, most of its courses are classified, and taught in a sensitive compartmented information facility.

“We were not able to do some of the creative solutions that some other sites may have been able to do with virtual or offline training. We have to have instructors in classrooms with the students to conduct training, so we have to posture the command to the highest state of COVID safety conducting our day-to-day mission of training,” he said.

In the first few months of COVID, IWTC Corry Station’s throughput stayed at a high level. “We average about 2,000 students on base here at Corry Station on any day of the week, and we have basically maintained that,” said McKeehan.

The command was successful in limiting the spread of the disease while maintaining throughput numbers out to the fleet, he added.

“We learned from a couple very minor outbreaks here, and were able to insulate and isolate the students that were affected. In fact, we were able to work down some of our ‘awaiting instruction’ students who, for one reason or another, were waiting for the next course to ‘class-up,’” he said.

The center’s Virginia Beach location at Dam Neck also can’t conduct classified training virtually, but has been successful in using off-site training for some course work. Tests must also be conducted in person, said Cmdr. Jim Brennan, commanding officer of IWTC Virginia Beach.

Cmdr. Josie Moore, commanding officer at IWTC Monterey in California, which is located at the Defense Language Institute, said the COVID impact has been manageable because language training is relatively easy to conduct virtually.

“Almost the very next day after COVID restrictions were put in place, the civilian faculty at the Defense Language Institute were able to make the switch to MS Teams and make use of all the collaborative tools available on that platform,” Moore said. “Students were able to stay in their rooms and do the interaction with their classmates as well as their teachers, and they also conduct all of their exams and quizzes online with the teachers’ interaction, as well.”

At the Information Warfare Training Command San Diego, commanding officer Cmdr. Tim Raymie said he had to initially drop scheduling down to about 50 percent because there was a limited amount of cleaning supplies and masks in the supply system.

“We have been focusing on teleworking, alternating schedules, minimizing exposure to the threat vectors that are out there. We’re back up to 100 percent. Everyone is wearing masks. We screen folks before they come in the door, and there is sanitizer about every three feet,” he said.

Marine Corps Lt. Col. Rory Feely, commanding officer of the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Maryland, has two priorities for the U.S. Naval Test Pilots School: health and welfare of the workforce and students while executing the mission.

The school is a busy squadron, with a lot of different aircraft types and a lot of maintenance.

“We didn’t have the depth to have two teams. I needed everybody’s help every day. We couldn’t run two shifts because we didn’t have the supervisory management with the approvals and authorities to do that. We put our arms around those things we could control, such as the behaviors to keep people staying healthy,” Feely said.

The Warfare Innovation Continuum Workshop at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey this year held a hybrid in person-virtual event.

According to Professor Jeff Kline, the WIC workshop brings together a mix of faculty and students with the field, fleet, academia and industry.

“I was pleasantly surprised at how well 157 people were able to work together on Microsoft Teams and Sakai,” said Professor Lyla Englehorn. “We were able to include a greater breadth of participants around the world this year. The technology allowed us to do that. We had students participating remotely from Singapore and Romania, and a U.S. Marine Corps officer who is on an exchange program at the Colombian Naval Academy.”

Even if COVID-19 restrictions are removed next year, Englehorn said the school is thinking of hosting hybrid events using these online tools to include a greater audience in the unclassified realm, and then maintain the classified work, as well, to include many more people working on these problems.

“We’re not looking at the ‘new normal,’” Englehorn said, “but the ‘new next.’”

Topics: Navy News

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