ROTC During the COVID-19 Pandemic

August 31, 2020

The adage, ‘Flexibility is the key to air power!’ gained an entirely new meaning as campus closures moved Det 009 online amidst the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As soon as Yale released its guidelines for the remainder of the Spring 2020 term, former cadet Kaitlin Porter, the Wing Commander at the time, led the Wing Staff in developing alternate plans for events and training. Like other courses, the Aerospace Studies courses switched to an online format, with discussions and briefings via Zoom. Leadership Lab took a similar format, and GMC cadets were assessed through online Warrior Knowledge quizzes and self-recorded briefings of training topics. As the Initial Military Training Squadron Commander noted, the new format brought new challenges, but nevertheless allowed cadets to be successful in their training and leadership development. Everyone in the cadet wing learned to improvise, adapt, and overcome.

Unlike academics, synchronous physical training proved impractical over Zoom. Instead, cadets were asked to complete one of eight suggested workouts each week, plus a workout of their own choosing. These suggested workouts included varied combinations of running, upper body, and abdominal exercises.  Cadets held each other accountable by recording the completion of these exercises in a shared Google spreadsheet. Many cadets also shared workout plans of their own, while others downloaded Strava, a fitness tracking platform that allowed cadets to post their workouts online. Throughout the end of the semester, Det 009 proved that physical distance couldn’t prevent wingmen from staying in shape, encouraging each other, and even having a bit of friendly competition in the form of a virtual 5k to raise money for the USO.

Virtual group activities extended beyond physical training during the campus closure – each week, every flight submitted a video to lighten the mood at the end of Leadership Lab. Among the highlights were a cooking show, a parody of a popular office television show, and a series of videos that showcased the dance moves of the cadets in Charlie Flight. Det 009 cadets also took part in a virtual base visit, meeting with Colonel Russell Driggers to learn about Sheppard Air Force Base and the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program. Cadets also met with James Hatch, a former Navy SEAL and an Eli Whitney student at Yale, to learn about his experiences as a SEAL.  Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) events took place online in the form of online board games, and several sophomore cadets worked on developing contingency plans for the upcoming semester and overhauling the detachment’s website.

The Fall 2020 semester is sure to present new challenges for Det 009’s Wing Staff, as Yale recently announced that sophomores would be required to enroll remotely in the fall and that first years would enroll remotely in the spring. Once Yale’s regulations were released, the Wing Staff, led by the Cadet Wing Commander, Vice Wing Commander, and Operations Group Commander worked tirelessly to develop a training plan for the coming semester. Currently, Det 009 is planning to deliver Aerospace Studies courses over Zoom while tracking physical training through Strava, an online fitness tracking platform.

Depending on whether a cadet is remotely enrolled or living on campus, they will complete Leadership Lab requirements online, with social distancing and mask requirements in effect for optional in-person activities if conditions permit. Although the COVID-19 situation is rapidly evolving, Det 009’s plans are designed to ensure every necessary precaution is taken while still allowing cadets to complete the training they need to prepare for Field Training or commissioning. Overcoming the challenges associated with running the ROTC program in the midst of a pandemic has proved once again that flexibility is the key to airpower.

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