JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. – With heat rippling through the pine barrens on the Fort Dix range, the low hum of summer cicadas droned in unison with the buzzing of small unmanned RQ-11B aircraft circling overhead. Soldiers, outfitted in full battle gear, laid low in the brush seeking shade from the sun and concealment from opposing forces roaming the simulated battlefield.The intense temperatures and continued threat of Covid-19 created several challenges for instructors with the New Jersey National Guard’s 254th Regional Training Institute.According to 254th leadership, mitigating the effects of Covid-19 and providing a safe and effective learning environment for Soldiers was a top priority. With eight courses taught simultaneously, instructors saw the opportunity to have specific classes overlap.“We have two courses running simultaneously, our Infantry Advanced Leaders Course, and our Raven B course,” said Col. Jeff Brownlee, commander of the 254th. “We took the opportunity and combined the field training portion for both courses to feed off each other and support each other with the missions that they’re learning how to do.”More than forty Soldiers in the Infantry course represented seventeen different states, including Active Duty, Guard, and Reserve forces. While the infantry ran different scenarios, from ambushes to key leader engagements, five Soldiers with the RQ-11B Raven course observed overhead, providing real-time battlefield updates to the tactical operations center.“It’s an amazing feeling to be out here teaching students, and an even more rewarding feeling because of dealing with Covid-19,” said Sgt. 1st Class Saadiq Shakir, a Raven course instructor with the 254th. “COVID shut a lot of things down, but it’s great that we can get Soldiers trained and proficient.”Shakir said that this is the first year the Raven course has integrated with the infantry course during field training, and the students were excited about the experience.“These Soldiers are potentially going downrange, flying missions where they could be saving lives, and I want them to be ready,” said Shakir. “One of the biggest things I hold to the heart is knowing that not only are they proficient enough to fly, but also confident enough that if something goes wrong on a mission, they can make adjustments on the fly.”While hiking out to a launch site, Staff Sgt. Dana Eustace reflected on the Raven course and said she was really enjoying it.“My favorite part has been that we’re in the classroom in the mornings, learning the capabilities, and in the afternoon, we’re out in the field doing it,” said Eustace, who is with the 254th, and is going through the training to be a Raven instructor. “It’s been a fantastic experience.”“Readiness is essential for the units we support by providing them trained Soldiers,” said Brownlee. “We developed a lot of protocols to mitigate COVID risk. We conduct temperature checks every day, monitor their health, and develop the training so that they can complete it and still maintain a safe environment.”“It’s the pride and joy of our cadre to ensure every Soldier we work with goes home fully trained.”For more National Guard newsNational Guard FacebookNational Guard TwitterHow the National Guard is helpingPhotos of the National Guard responseLatest from the CDCU.S. responseWhite House-CDC response