CAMP ASHLAND, Neb. -- Leadership courses are a crucial component to ensuring that Soldiers are mission ready at all times. Graduating class 001-22 of the Basic Leader Course (BLC) that began Oct. 6, 2021, at Camp Ashland, Nebraska, was the first group of Soldiers to complete the leadership course entirely in person since March 2020, due to COVID-19 putting a temporary pause on in-person gatherings and travel.
“I think you have more of the experience of actually learning to do things,” said Spc. Amy Granda, a student in class 001-22 from the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas. “You actually learn how to march people because you're constantly doing it, you learn how to properly lead physical fitness training, you have somebody that's going to be there with you throughout the day teaching you.”
The instructors and staff of Camp Ashland’s 1-209th Regional Training Institute (RTI) have been working in overdrive since May 2020 in order to continue training and maintain Soldier readiness throughout the ranks. Camp Ashland paved the way for all 34 noncommissioned officer(NCO) academies in the nation with the development of the virtual BLC curriculum.
“It blows my mind what the staff here had to do to adjust fire and switch to learn this virtual platform,” said 1st Sgt. Andrew Siemek, Deputy Commandant of 209th RTI NCO Academy. “They ramped up, implemented the new courseware and stayed energetic every day to come to work.”
While virtual BLC was closing the gap during the height of the pandemic, students and instructors alike are happy to be back in the classroom.
“Even just meeting people from different states, active duty as well as Guard or Reserve and having that unique 22-day experience... I think a lot of that's lost in the virtual,” said instructor and small group leader, Sgt. 1st Class Tony Franklin. “Now that we are back in resident, I think it's pretty cool that they get to go through that. And maybe some of them will make some lifelong friends.”
Many health and safety precautions have been put in place to allow for Soldiers to return to the classroom. Masks are worn at all times in class and indoors. Soldiers also participate in a COVID-19 symptoms screening upon arrival.
“I think we owe it to the students and their units to make sure this is a safe environment,” Siemek said.
Careful adherence to health protection measures allowed the BLC resident course to take place uninterrupted for class 001-22.
“It's a great feeling to have soldiers back on the ground,” said Command Sgt. Major Dean Reicks, Commandant of 209th RTI NCO Academy. “To see their eyes light up when they catch a concept and they understand what's being taught, we couldn't do that virtually.”