FORT STEWART, Ga. — The Fort Stewart Noncommissioned Officer Academy recently transitioned the Basic Leader Course from a resident course to a virtual course due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Spc. Ariel Ide, human resources specialist, Signal Intelligence Sustainment Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, said she would compare virtual BLC to an online college class, yet more intense because it is packed into 22 days online, covering a large variety of leadership skills and Army tasks and regulations.
BLC is an Army course aimed to teach corporal and specialist Soldiers leadership skills and prepare them to take on the role of a noncommissioned officer. Traditionally, the students come with all the necessary paperwork and are administered an Army Physical Fitness Test, followed by roughly 20 days of face-to-face instruction on various subjects to shape them into leaders. Instructors share experiences that open discussions amongst the class, and students answer each other's questions.
Staff Sgt. Heather Dawson, a small group leader at the NCOA, has been instructing BLC for a year and a half.
“The virtual BLC is the same but is being ran through Blackboard,” said Dawson. “The only significant difference is that we do not get face-to-face time.”
Ide said a significant skill the students are learning is adapting to change. As the first class to conduct BLC virtually, these future NCOs are in the frontlines leading by example, and their input about the course will be invaluable to future iterations.
“My favorite part of the course has been being able to do the work in my own space,” Ide said. “Since I was teleworking before the course started, I already have everything I need right next to me at all times. If I can’t sleep and have an essay due in two days, I can easily reach over at 2 [a.m.] and start working if I need to.”
Dawson said her platoon begins each morning with an attendance discussion, which is followed by group activities through Google Docs and Google Slides. In this way, instructors can evaluate individual leadership skills and identify who may need a little bit more coaching and practice. The day concludes with a final discussion.
“You have to hold the Soldiers to higher standards in this situation,” Dawson said. “They are all working from home, so it’s all about seeing who is able to avoid distractions and willing to put in work from home.”