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
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.