BLUFFDALE, Utah – Service members assigned to the 204th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Utah Army National Guard, were among the first in the nation to conduct a teleworking drill April 18-19 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a unique opportunity for our Soldiers to be with their families and still conduct vital military training,” said Lt. Col. Woodrow Miner, commander, 204th MEB. “In many cases, kids and spouses get to see our Soldiers while they conduct training from home.”
According to leaders of the Utah National Guard, the safety of service members and their families is a top priority.
“We are certainly mindful of the COVID-19 crisis here in Utah,” said Col. Steven Fairbourn, G3 director of operations, Utah National Guard. “However, as proud members of our national defense enterprise, we must continue to maintain our readiness for whatever circumstances lie ahead.”
To prepare for an upcoming warfighter exercise, the 204th MEB quickly shifted from in-person weekend training to virtual inactive duty training or “teledrill,” which allowed staff to continue to plan for the large exercise. Teledrill also gives every Soldier the opportunity to maintain individual readiness while at home.
“A lot of the required individual training we need to do during a weekend drill is online anyway,” Miner said. “We can get a lot accomplished remotely, so when we get back to normal, we can jump right into our larger element operations without missing a beat.”
A typical weekend drill in the Utah Army National Guard varies from unit to unit. Generally, it consists of a morning accountability formation, followed by physical fitness training, then preventive maintenance checks and service on essential vehicles and equipment. Each Soldier must also train in his field of expertise, to stay proficient in a military occupational specialty.
How is teledrill different from a typical weekend drill?
“The ‘feel’ of a teledrill will certainly vary from what all of our members have grown accustomed to and enjoy,” Fairbourn said. “A teledrill will be initiated via phone or email, providing instructions to the member on what individual training tasks are to be accomplished.”
Fairbourn explained that training tasks could include conducting physical fitness workouts at home or completing online training like operations security, anti-terrorism, cybersecurity, code of conduct, risk management, and suicide awareness and prevention.
“The virtual IDT period does require the member to have their own internet and cellular access,” Fairbourn said, “but in this day and age, these utilities have become standard for the preponderance of our members.”
A unit’s readiness begins with individual training, according to Miner. Online training modules are part of collective section or unit training, and culminate with larger exercises, like the 204th MEB’s warfighter exercise scheduled for November at Ft. Carson, Colorado.
“My working group has been using conference calls, group texts, emails and SharePoints to collaborate in preparation for warfighter,” said Maj. Robin Cox, 204th MEB intelligence officer and the warfighter project officer. “The work feels very academic, but the output is entirely mission-oriented.”
Cox is a member of the primary staff, working to address the commander’s line of efforts with the warfighter exercise while teleworking from home.
“We’re in a unique situation, where milestones in our glide path have changed drastically,” Cox said. “The plan that you have is not always what happens, but I’m confident that our staff can handle this, even though we’ve had to change how we handle it.”
She explained that two other major exercises have already been canceled due to the COVID-19 crisis, but as of the April teledrill, nothing had changed with the 204th MEB’s scheduled warfighter exercise.
“Working while collocated can facilitate the creative process,” Cox said. “But teleworking creates more of a real-world scenario. You have to be able to communicate effectively across the battlefield even when you’re not present with your audience.”
While collective training events may not be tenable during the COVID-19 crisis, there is plenty of training that can be conducted from home.
“Our focus with virtual training is to continue to advance the readiness of our members while both preserving the force and combating the spread of COVID-19,” said Fairbourn.