In the mid 1940s the world was embroiled in war. Some historians credit “American ingenuity” as a key factor in the success of many U.S. efforts. Today the world is challenged again. Not by tyrannical ideologues committing war crimes, but by a non-sentient virus that has no sworn enemies, no uniform, and no agenda.

COVID-19 effects people of all races, ages, and nationalities with no regard for the positions people hold, their social status, or level of wealth. One of the best defenses against the spread of the virus is social distancing, the method of maintaining at least six feet between individuals to deny the virus the potential to find a new host. The effects social distancing can have on training is just the latest obstacle being overcome by the ingenuity of 1st Cavalry Division Soldiers.

A group of non-commissioned officers with the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment have created an online training effort called Black Knight Virtual University which aims to provide various training opportunities to their Soldiers and NCOs.

There are many video conferencing applications available, and people all over the world are continuing to hold meetings with those applications as fighting the spread of the virus keeps people apart. But when it came to training a large group of Soldiers, many of those same options presented various challenges. As the battalion discussed how they could more efficiently communicate with Soldiers, the popular social media video platform YouTube was mentioned.

Master Sgt. Paul E. Joseph, the 1-5 Cav. home station mission command non-commissioned officer-in-charge took the idea to use the video sharing platform and ran with it. Joseph said he had just finished an interpersonal communications class in his online master’s degree program and for one assignment he had to record a presentation and upload it to YouTube to be viewed and then graded.

Joseph connected with several company NCOICs and the idea grew quickly.

“We wanted something that was beneficial to all Soldiers,” said Joseph. “So, we started with the basics. We asked ourselves what was very important for us to know when we first came in the Army.”

Joseph said one of the first videos he made was explaining to new Soldiers how to read their Leave and Earnings Statement. Then came a video that helped NCOs understand how to read their Soldiers’ record briefs. Before long they we creating individual training plans for their Soldiers based on the Soldier’s needs. Next month Joseph said they are adding Military Occupational Specialty specific training, and that the courses are being added to their training calendars. There is a set of classes meant to prep Soldiers who will soon be attending Non-commissioned Officer Education System course like the Basic Leadership Course.

They even added classes from the Ranger Handbook, a book mainly written for U.S. Army Rangers and other light infantry units, but has training that can be useful for many Soldiers. Joseph turned to Staff Sgt. Mitchel R. Carson, the A and C company rear-detachment NCOIC for employing the Ranger Handbook training as Carson has completed the U.S. Army Ranger training.

“All of our Soldiers are taking Ranger tactics,” said Carson. “Mechanics, medics, cooks, we are spreading out that skill set to other MOSs who are not used to seeing that information. It’s a unique opportunity they might not otherwise see.”

Carson also created a questionnaire for Soldiers to complete after the training. Joseph said many of the classes have a “Check on Learning” or other accompanying assignment meant to demonstrate what Soldiers learn when they complete a course. Some courses require Soldiers to write a research paper on the related topic, complete in APA style just like regular college courses. Joseph even has an APA style writing class to help Soldiers learn the commonly used format.

But it’s not just Soldiers writing research papers, senior NCOs in the battalion are doing it as well.

“Our senior NCOs are being assigned books and audio books, most recently on the topic of servant leadership, and are writing papers on the subject,” said Joseph.

The group discussed wanting to create efforts to help Solders at all points of their careers. They’ve included classes on the Soldier for Life and Transition Assistance Program for Soldiers who are transitioning out of the Army and have plans for NCO Professional Development courses for leaders who are helping transitioning Soldiers.

Joseph said the current group of NCOs leading the effort are going to make sure it continues into the future when the deployed elements of the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team returns from Europe. Even once social distancing is no longer an obstacle.

“When all the people forward deployed return we are going to make sure this is passed on,” Joseph said. “It belongs to 1-5.

“We’re going to pass this off to as many junior leads as possible, especially to the specialty MOSs,” said Sgt. Nicholas Buonocore, the Headquarters and Headquarters Company rear detachment NCOIC. “It is definitely a money maker for Soldiers who may not have a lot of time, are always deployed, or somewhere else for training. This knowledge is always available wherever you are.”

Joseph said as he continues work on his master’s degree that it can sometimes be difficult to juggle all the responsibilities some Soldiers can have late in their career.

“I wish years ago our leaders were more invested in pushing education,” said Joseph. “Maybe they did and I didn’t pay attention. But now when I talk to my Soldiers, I call it skill-level you. You don’t have a family with kids, it’s just you. We’re trying to help them learn from our mistakes and not wait until late in life like we did to pursue your education.”