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The Virtual Team Room

By Kevin Cude

Photo courtesy of DVIDS and taken by Capt. Adan Cazarez.

The team room has drastically changed since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This allowed the opportunity for company and team leadership to find new and innovative ways to train in preparation for deployment. Teleworking and virtual training can have a positive or negative impact on a team. Face-to-face time has been significantly less and finding ways to continue to build the team dynamics and gain a

better understanding of the team has been a task. This difficulty is especially pronounced for tactical and engagement training which hinders teams from gaining the

necessary skills to push forward for deployment. The best way to understand a

teammate is to work with them in person and figure out how they conduct themselves in a given situation. This awareness allows the trainer to adjust procedure and determine the necessary means to improve performance. Understanding the different platforms for communication and the different training opportunities for teams during the pandemic was key to maximizing available training time.

COVID-19 changed the ways teams communicate. There have been many

platforms that have been tried throughout the pandemic, some more successful than

others. For my organization it began with DCS and progressed through Slack, Signal,

WICKR, and finally Microsoft Teams. These platforms allowed for consistent

communication whether by video or cell phone. Allowing teams to have that constant

face-to-face contact ensured they were still conducting the necessary training in

preparation for deployment. Teams have found that Microsoft Sharepoint and Microsoft

Teams are amazing tools, especially when working remotely on the same products.

These platforms grant the ability to have multiple people editing the same document at

one time, which is invaluable when developing products for Mission Analysis or a

planning exercise. Both tools facilitate remote collaboration without continuously

updating master slides or trackers. The tools to work remotely and still maintain

consistent collaboration have become more important during the pandemic. This time

can truly make or break a team, illuminating the team members who are going to put in a full effort and those who are not. It also highlighted property deficiencies. When not all

members have a government issued computer it takes additional time and planning to

ensure that everyone is on the same page no matter where the location. Utilizing the

different tools and just going back to basic communication allows those teams to

continue on the right track as they prepare for future deployments.

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The COVID-19 pandemic was a time for teams to take the opportunity to improve

their institutional knowledge. Team members found many different courses that can

accomplish tasks needed for deployment and for understanding the operational

environment. Among these courses were a series provided by the Federal Emergency

Management Agency (FEMA) through a website that enables online training, conducted

and endorsed by the agency. The Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) also has

valuable courses, including Introduction to SOF, Joint Fundamentals (CEP 1), and

Enterprise Management (CEP 2). There were opportunities for teams to train on

language via Special Operations Forces Teletraining System (SOFTS) or to have a

native speaker of the language facilitate training. Companies came up with different

courses of action to assist in improving teams’ reporting with a virtual Realistic Military

Training (RMT) and a Company Planning Exercise. This showed how organizations

utilized adaptive thinking to attack critical planning and reporting skills needed at the

team level.

There will always be a need for human interaction, especially in the Civil Affairs

Community, but teleworking allowed teams to see that there are ways to allow for more

time at home while still being able to accomplish the training. Taking the time to find a

balance between working at home and being present in the office could be beneficial to

readiness and morale in the future. One of the SOF Truths says, “Humans are more

important than hardware.” This was proven over the pandemic, as teleworking will never

replace the need for in-person training, specifically when conducting battle drills or civil engagements. However, it does allow teams to add additional tools to their

toolbox, especially in preparation for split team operations when conducting missions in austere environments. Taking the time to adapt to this virtual team room while

consistently moving forward will significantly improve training conducted in person much more and will allow for the team leadership to focus on specifics they have identified over the teleworking networks.

Finding ways to continue training and communication for teams and companies

was difficult at times. The teams which took the opportunities to improve their

intellectual knowledge and utilized the many platforms for communication and virtual

training will continue to succeed in the future. COVID-19 abruptly changed the

landscape in which we planned and executed Civil Affairs Training. While nothing can

replace natural human interaction, this pandemic offered organizations an opportunity to manage communication and information systems that closely mirror those used during a deployment.

About the Author

SSG Kevin Cude currently serves as a Civil Affairs NCO on CAT 145 in Delta Company 91st Civil Affairs Battalion preparing for an upcoming deployment. He has been in Civil Affairs for just over 3 years. He has been deployed three times to Afghanistan prior to coming CA and once to Niger during his tenure in Alpha Company 91st.

Standard Disclaimer. The opinions, conclusions and recommendations expressed or

implied above are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of any organization

or any entity of the U.S. government.



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