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Upgrade training goes virtual during COVID-19

Screenshot shows video tiles for each person taking part in a virtual training session along with the training content they were discussing.

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Staff Sgt. Brandon Robinson, 461st Operation Support Squadron instructor, Senior Airman Taneesha Thompson, 461st OSS student, and Gregory Williams, 461st ACW Senior Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance Initial Qualifications Training instructor, take part in a virtual class together from their homes via Microsoft Teams during the COVID-19 pandemic. The team went to virtual learning to ensure new Airmen’s readiness continued in spite of being forced into teleworking situations due to the pandemic. (courtesy photo)

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --

At the beginning of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 pandemic, Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, began to send personnel home to telework in order to protect them from the spread of the coronavirus. The 461st and 116th Air Control Wings intelligence training sections came together to keep classes going virtually.

“The 461st ACW and 116th ACW is the only organization in the Air Force that operates the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft,” said Gregory Williams, 461st ACW Senior Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance Initial Qualifications Training instructor. “Because of that, new intelligence personnel’s first experience with this aircraft, its capabilities and its mission is only when they arrive at Robins AFB.”

Realizing the unit still had to meet its global commitment of providing qualified trained personnel, there were no other options than to use virtual instruction to meet the demand.

“We needed to continue training in order to meet the demands of the mission,” said Williams. “Even in the middle of a pandemic, the need to have qualified, deployable-ready intelligence personnel never slowed down.”

The intelligence training section reviewed all training material and removed the sensitive information so it could be taught in an unclassified environment.

“The intelligence training section, as a whole, brainstormed the idea of using the existing virtual conference platforms like Microsoft Teams to reach newly assigned personnel,” said Williams.

According to Staff Sgt. Brandon Robinson, 461st Operations Support Squadron instructor, Air Force Instruction requires new Airmen to start Initial Qualifications Training and Mission Qualification Training within 60 days of arrival to the base.

IQT is combined with MQT and takes airmen about three to four weeks to complete,” said Robinson. “When IQT and MQT are complete the Airmen are fully qualified to give briefings.”

Once IQT and MQT are completed, it still takes Airmen 12 months of performing their jobs to become 5-level qualified. When the pandemic started some students were concerned.

“When COVID-19 started, my concern was my class would stop, and I would not become an operational Airman,” said Airman 1st Class Joseph Detrano, 461st OSS student.

Teaching from his home in Atlanta, connectivity issues did not slow Williams’s ability to instruct his class.

“We were all new to working in this environment under unprecedented circumstances,” said Williams. “Once we worked out the bugs, things went smoothly.”

The virtual class was a success for students and instructors.

“It benefitted me because I was able to complete the training,” said Detrano.

“It made it easier, because we were able to still do our jobs, and we were able to do it virtually from home,” said Robinson.

In the end, the 461st and 116th ACW’s came together and adapted to meet the needs of the mission.

“In many ways this experience is indicative of military service and life in general,” said Williams. “We must always find ways to overcome our circumstances in order to achieve success.”