The Inspector General School (TIGS) at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, marked a milestone July 31 as 25 students graduated the school’s first-ever virtual Inspector General Basic Course.
TIGS, like many other training centers across the Army, was forced to suspend in-person training in March because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
According to TIGS Dean of Academics and Deputy Commandant Stephen Rusiecki, creating and executing the virtual course was no small feat.
“When The Inspector General (Lt. Gen. Leslie Smith) directed TIGS to develop an online version of the Basic Course in April, the only platform available at the time had numerous shortcomings.”
Rusiecki said a new, more functional virtual platform became available soon afterward, allowing the course planning to proceed.
“The instructors immediately identified (the new platform) as superior, so we re-structured the virtual learning framework to account for as much hands-on instruction as possible.”
Rusiecki credited the TIGS senior enlisted advisers, Master Sgt. David Ortiz and Sgt. 1st Class Sal Murillo, with mastering the new platform and quickly training the rest of the TIGS faculty to use it effectively. Over the course of two months, the faculty refined the virtual classroom structure and rehearsed every step of the three-week course, which started July 13.
The students, from all components of the Army, received instruction and completed practical exercises in the four functions of the Inspector General (IG) System: Inspections, Assistance, Investigations, and Teaching and Training. Student IGs were trained to live up to the ethos of being the ‘eyes, ears, voice and conscience of the Army.’
Sgt. 1st Class Lando Shuler, with the Army Reserve Command, appreciated the virtual delivery of the class. “At no time did I feel like I couldn’t ask a question or like I was hidden behind the screen. In fact, I believe I contributed more to class discussion in the (virtual) setting than I would have felt comfortable doing in a resident course,” Shuler said.
Lt. Col. James Caldwell, assigned to the National Guard Bureau, had no problem adjusting to the virtual learning environment. “I have been teleworking since mid-March, and National Guard Bureau has proven that we can accomplish the mission and still do ‘the business of the building’ in a telework environment.”
Caldwell was impressed by the preparation TIGS took before the class, including shipping a box of course materials to each student. “It was a huge help during the course to have physical books to reference while my monitor was displaying the classroom or a practical exercise.”
Rusiecki said the virtual class went well, with some areas identified for improvement. “We are working to refine some basic processes, such as how to handle students’ technical issues remotely. We are also looking to refine the schedule and the general timing of instruction,” he said.
Sgt. Maj. Larry Orvis, who assumed office as the Inspector General sergeant major on June 10, was concerned the virtual classroom would result in an impersonal learning experience.
“I thought the biggest challenge would be not getting to know the rest of the students, building those relationships and technical channels, but I was totally wrong. The virtual environment was in fact conducive to building those relationships,” Orvis said.
Based on the success of the first virtual class, TIG started a new class Aug. 10 with 40 students in attendance.
Caldwell felt confident in the training, which was delivered under unusual circumstances. “The schoolhouse did a good job of emphasizing the core knowledge required of an Inspector General while reassuring us that we will always have a reach-back capability to (TIGS).”
Shuler said the class prepared him well for his IG tour. “The IG does not need to know the answer to everything, but must know the process to find out,” he said.