JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –Advanced Individual Training (AIT) Soldiers assigned to the U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence (MEDCoE) attend refresher training while in hold status. MEDCoE’s Soldier in Transition Training (SiTT) is a two-week program designed to refresh Soldier skills for hold Soldiers.
Hold Soldiers may include new arrivals to Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, from Basic Combat Training (BCT) awaiting the formal start to their AIT program of instruction (POI) or Soldiers who have recently completed AIT and are awaiting travel to follow-on units of assignment.
SiTT lessons include a wide variety of areas from warrior tasks and battle drills to drill and ceremony, financial readiness and formal board procedures. Staff Sgt. Kelvin Suarezcolon, noncommissioned officer in charge (NCOIC) of SiTT, said dedicated instructors also touch on Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TC3) and other medical tasks.
The program was informally established early 2020 during the initial days of the coronavirus pandemic when Soldier travel was temporarily halted. Suarezcolon was selected to serve as the NCOIC in January 2021 and immediately formalized the program by establishing a standard operating procedure (SOP) that includes having a dedicated drill sergeant presence throughout training and more hands-on training.
“Because we cover such a wide range of topics, the Soldiers enjoy being able to expand their knowledge,” Suarezcolon said. “Trainees are able to master these skills without the hectic environment of basic training.” He believes SITT is an especially beneficial preparation tool for those Soldiers transitioning into their military occupational specialty (MOS) training but is also worthwhile for those Soldiers who are able to refresh their skills just before departure to their first duty station. “With smaller groups than both basic and AIT, we were able to incorporate more opportunities for trainees to ask more detailed questions of instructors and drill sergeants in their specific MOS.”
Pvt. Drew Smoker, a 68D Operating Room Specialist in training in 264th Medical Battalion, attended SiTT when he arrived to Fort Sam Houston. He said he enjoyed the time in the program, and he was happy to trade downtime and Soldier details for the training. “My day was filled with learning and review of information I believe I will need my whole Army career,” Smoker said. “Another great part of SiTT was being able to hear firsthand experiences from the instructors on the lessons as well as their advice on how to make the most out of your Army career.”
After speaking with many of the instructors, for example, Smoker is now motivated to pursue the Expert Field Medical Badge (EFMB) as he progresses in the Army Profession. “The instructors all talked about how it was difficult to earn and that it took demanding preparation,” Smoker said. “But if you are willing to study and persevere, earning the EFMB would put you a step ahead in your Army career.” Smoker, who received a MEDCoE coin for excellence from Command Sgt. Major Clark Charpentier, MEDCoE Command Sergeant Major, for displaying exceptional knowledge on medical tasks, is certainly on the right track.
Smoker’s favorite part of SiTT was all of the hands-on instruction and lessons built into informal competitions like seeing who could put a hasty tourniquet on a casualty the quickest and sked stretcher or litter carry races. “All of the little challenges motivated the class to remain engaged but also to see how the skills could be applied in real-world medical situations,” Smoker said.
Since January, Suarezcolon, alongside his fellow MEDCOE instructors, has trained over 500 Soldiers. Many hold Soldiers who would normally attend SiTT are supporting a recent tasker in support of Brooke Army Medical Center’s vaccination program at the Fort Sam Houston Vaccination Center. “SiTT training was not designed to be concurrent, so Soldiers who miss a block of instruction for a tasker, for example, will pick back up with fellow hold students without missing a beat once the tasker is complete,” Suarezcolon said.
Though wait times for hold Soldiers are less than when the pandemic began, Suarezcolon says there will always be a need to have quality training ready to go to ensure Soldier downtime is used productively.
“In a perfect world, Soldiers would only have a day or two on hold status upon arrival or after AIT,” Suarezcolon said. “However, when needed, I am proud to be on the team providing worthwhile training for skills that I know these Soldiers will look back on and appreciate at some time in the near future of their Army career.”