Oregon Airmen leverage technology to complete training and mission during pandemic

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Nick Choy
  • 142nd Wing / Public Affairs

Nearly two months into the stay-at-home executive order issued by Oregon Governor Kate Brown, people throughout the region are well into their “new normal” with regard to childcare, remote offices, drive-thru grocery shopping and visiting with friends and family via video teleconference.

For the men and women of the 142nd Wing, the ability to protect the Pacific Northwest remains unchanged, says Col. Todd Hofford.

“We have had zero negative impact to the execution of our 24-hour Aerospace Control Alert mission,” he says.

Hofford, the unit’s vice commander, says technology such as smart phone applications and virtual meeting software has allowed the men and women of the 142nd Wing to complete much of their training normally conducted on base.

“We are learning to adopt new technologies which are contributing to collaborative achievements that continue to keep us on track to meet all of our desired operational capabilities,” Hofford says.

“Flexibility is the key to airpower. We need to learn to think outside of the box and stay safe and legal at the same time,” Hofford adds.

At the 142nd Medical Group’s Detachment-1, leveraging online teleconferencing technology has allowed its members to complete most of their training, and continue meeting face-to-face — albeit through virtual means.

“We have become accustomed to [online teleconferencing], and look forward to continuing to use it through our current "stay-home" orders and [possibly] after,” says 2nd Lt. Daniel Gates, Medical Plans Officer.

Gates added that using virtual meeting technology is nothing new to the unit — he and his full-time staff have been meeting regularly with their commander, a drill-status guard member who lives and works in Bend, Ore., multiple times per week well before Oregon issued “stay-at-home” orders on March 23.

Another member of the Detachment, Maj. Jill Little, says that at first she was intimidated by the idea of replacing her monthly drill with a virtual commander’s call and online training. But after completing both the April and May drills, she sees the accomplishment as another example of how her unit solves problems to complete the mission.

“I was very surprised how well the virtual commander’s call went,” Little says. “The [unit] is a group of people who are willing to push the envelope and solve problems, and I think this is just another example of that.”

While the virtual technology provides a useful stopgap, it doesn’t quite come close to the real thing, Gates adds.

“Nothing comes close to the in-person interactions that take place,” he says. “We are missing our cultural aspects such as award and promotion ceremonies, retirements, formations, etc.”

For Airman 1st Class Susi Traudt, the virtual drill helped keep alive a sense of community.

“Seeing and hearing from our Command staff, even if only through the screen, reinforced our sense of purpose and pride in why we are here,” she said.

There was even some typical joking and banter going on in the chat stream, which Traudt felt brought added a sense of normalcy to the online encounter.

“The joking and rib-pokes were the closest we could get to being together without physically being in the same space,” Traudt added.

Hofford underscored the importance of fostering relationships as the foundation to any organization.

“Social interaction is definitely missed,” he says. “Relationships start to sever as we spend less time with one another — human interaction is important.”

At the same time, Hofford recognizes the changes that are taking place in the traditional office culture, and how new options to complete the mission are valuable to both the unit and its members.

“I think we are discovering how capable we can be in a virtual world. This will save money and time — two of our most precious commodities,” Hofford says.

Hofford says his unit has learned some valuable lessons over the past several weeks, particularly when it comes to leveraging the talent and resources of its members and available technologies.

“Optimism and a positive attitude are key. Keep calm and carry on,” he says. “We have a mission to maintain and the ability to persevere no matter what the challenge.”

Helpful Tips to Successful Operations During COVID-19

Communicate, but don’t over-communicate. Be thoughtful and forward thinking with your words. Remain consistent with message delivery.

Accountability: create a system that takes into account your members’ health and wellness. For example, conduct weekly accountability through text, accompanied by supervisor to subordinate monthly wellness phone calls/virtual conversations.

Flexibility: in times of crisis, humans are stressed in ways that are vastly different from normal times. Humans will react differently to these new stressors. It is important to remain flexible and understanding to individual's specific situations.

Be patient and willing to learn new processes. Set up any online accounts or applications needed well in advance of meetings in order to ensure success. Conduct a test run to see if you encounter any technical problems, and ask for help when you need it!

Offer solutions: if you have constructive feedback to improve any processes, share it with the group. Remember, we’re in this together!