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"While many day-to-day things are on hold right now, one thing that won't stop is ensuring that our Service Members and their families have safe food and water supplies,” said Capt. Samantha Warner, veterinarian and officer in charge at RAF Feltwell Veterinary Treatment Facility, who started participating in the online diary course on 16 April. (Photo Credit: Dylan Bowne) VIEW ORIGINAL

LANDSTUHL, Germany – Soldiers across Public Health Command Europe divisions continue to maintain mission readiness while practicing social distancing by taking part in virtual training courses.

Public Health Command Europe implemented virtual training courses for Soldiers, civilians and local nationals who are unable to participate in “in person” courses due to the current COVID-19 restrictions.

Readiness maintains PHCE’s focus while tackling the hurdles the current environment causes.

Under normal circumstances, Veterinary Services hosts a biennial, two-week training event in Denmark with twelve Veterinary Corps Officers participating from Italy, Spain, Germany, the United Kingdom and Belgium.

During the training course, veterinarians develop the proficiency necessary to perform commercial sanitary audits of milk, cheese, butter and cultured dairy products for listing in the Department of Defense Worldwide Directory of Sanitarily Approved Food Sources, according to Chief Warrant Officer 4 Vicente Silvestre, Senior Food Protection Officer at PHCE. These items will be delivered to dining facilities, commissaries, shoppettes, and child development centers across Europe and Africa.

Because of the pandemic, travel bans are in place until 30 June. As a result, Veterinary Services has introduced virtual dairy training to ensure all personnel practice social distancing and remain safe duringthe current pandemic.

“It is most important for our Veterinary Corps Officers to maintain mission readiness,” Silvestre said.  ”It is their job to perform sanitary audits at food manufacturing facilities throughout Europe and to ensure the safety of the food supply and protect the health and welfare of warfighters and their families.. “With the current pandemic our travel has been restricted and we need to get up to date with all audits which have been delayed so that we can hit the ground running once restrictions are lifted.”

Twice a year, Veterinary Corps Officers travel to Denmark and train for two weeks at the handful of manufacturing establishments that supply dairy to US Forces in Europe.

“We have adapted our work methods and agenda so it can all be done virtually,” Silvestre added. “Every week, we meet virtually for about three hours and go over a topic directly related to dairy audits in order to maintain proficiency. Dairy audits are a highly perishable skill and requires constant refresher training.”

Soldiers from other divisions of PHCE are also executing courses through virtual learning and practical exercises..

PHCE’s Industrial Hygiene Division conducted respiratory protection program management training with individuals from Army Health Clinic Stuttgart, Hohenfels, Vilseck, and Grafenwӧhr in addition to personnel from United States Africa Command, according to Doug Fallon, an Industrial Hygienist. The training enables these commands to ensure their personnel wear respirators safely when caring for COVID-19 patients.

“The theory and regulatory framework of respiratory protection was delivered via the Defense Collaboration Services to a larger group at one time,” explained Fallon. “Then, local IHD staff conducted hands-on training for respirator fit-testing in groups of 1-3 people. The combination of larger virtual trainings combined with small practical sessions allowed us to maximize training efficiency and effectiveness while practicing social distancing.”

The lessons learned from the virtual training sessions will inform future training and assist IHD personnel’s continued efforts to secure the health and safety of our force.

“The drive to deliver distance-learning forced us to innovate new methods as well,” Fallon said. “For example, Michelle Joers, an Industrial Hygienist from Ansbach, adapted a PowerPoint training to a playable video with voice over. This allows respiratory program managers to conduct digital training with their personnel, further facilitating social distancing.”

Digital training does not compensate for hands-on training but there are benefits to it as well.

“PHCE’s Army Hearing Program is the primary source for hearing education and training in Europe for the U.S. Army,” Dr. Angeli Mohanani-Posey, Audiologist at PHCE, explained. “We also support the Air Force as well, but we have limited resources.  Online training benefits the instructors and students alike. Instructors are scarce and online training allows them to be in more than one place at a time. Soldiers now have the ability to participate in training despite the COVID19 restrictions in place.”

Some trainings are self-paced, which allows the individual the opportunity to come back and review materials if needed and others are live, encouraging room for discussion and exchange of expertise.

“More and more services are being reduced, so maintaining hearing readiness becomes more of an issue,” Mohanani- Posey said. “COVID-19 emphasized the importance of maintaining a high-level of medical readiness throughout the year. By offering training online, this enables us to increase the number of trained personnel readily on hand to address the anticipated high demand for annual hearing readiness examinations when services return to normal operations.”

Public Health Command Europe has received positive feedback from their participants across the footprint.

"While many day-to-day things are on hold right now, one thing that won't stop is ensuring that our Service Members and their families have safe food and water supplies,” said Capt. Samantha Warner, veterinarian and officer in charge at RAF Feltwell Veterinary Treatment Facility. “The ability to further my education remotely in order to keep our Nation's defense healthy has not come without some technical hurdles, but serves as an incredible opportunity to connect with peers and subject matter experts to best ensure food safety and defense."

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