MARTINSBURG, W.Va. —
As traditional training events in May and April have been postponed or cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions, the 167th Operations Support Squadron (OSS) completed the 167th Airlift Wing’s first ever virtual unit training assembly last weekend.
“I think that virtual UTAs and telecommuting are an excellent training alternative. It allows members to have a customized training plan which can be very efficient,” said Col. Chris Sigler, 167th Operations Group commander. “We can’t do everything remotely, but this option certainly reduces the volume of training events required at future UTAs. This will allow the members to focus on accomplishing hands-on events once we return to the base.”
Approximately 50 members of the OSS assembled using Microsoft Teams, a software application that the Department of Defense recently authorized as part of the Commercial Virtual Remote initiative, or CVR. The initiative was implemented when COVID restrictions were first put into place to allow the DoD’s mission to continue.
The maturation of commercial, off-the-shelf collaboration software allows the Guard mission of organizing, training, and equipping members to ensure readiness, readiness to assist in COVID-19 response actions or in the event our enemies attempt to take advantage of this crisis.
With the sudden implementation of minimum manning and social distancing policies, the 167th Operations Group, including members from both the OSS and Airlift Squadron, had to develop new telework policies from the ground up that would meet the State and Departmental requirements. Both squadrons worked together to find a policy that would meet the needs of nearly 200 Airmen in seven different career fields.
“The research and staffing of the policy is a great example of our group’s mindset to find a wat to say yes to challenges. A few traditional Guardsmen and full-timers, across two squadrons, were able to quickly review multiple regulations and products from other ANG units to produce a policy that provides DSGs with a way to effectively increase readiness not only current restrictions but also post-COVID,” explained Lt. Col. Randy Wright, 167th AS commander.
Many squadron members were apprehensive about the effectiveness of the virtual Unit Training Assembly, or vUTA, however a significant amount of training was accomplished including, annual Total Force Ancillary Training, suicide prevention and sexual assault prevention training. In addition, the Base Personal Financial Counselor provided up-to-date advice on COVID related financial considerations for members.
“Holding the vUTA for the OSS was an integral way to get information to our members and keeping them up to date with what we are doing around the state in response to COVID-19. Just interacting with our Airmen was so important to the leadership team,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jacki Weddle, 167th Operations Group first sergeant.
The 167th's vUTA session was successful in the eyes of the leadership team and the members. Hopefully this achievement will encourage other squadrons, groups, and wings throughout the Air National Guard to continue operating during this historic time.