By Staff Sgt. Emily Kenney | 21st Space Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — For many Airmen, staying connected while working from home can be taxing. Despite various video conference meetings, group text messages and email traffic, it is easy for people to feel disconnected from their peers and their mission.
However, Staff Sgt. Hannah Jones, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station emergency management mission support, saw the change of pace as an opportunity to try something different within her flight.
In an effort to stay connected and proficient in all aspects of the job, Jones created a virtual readiness challenge.
“[The VRC] was an easy way to keep our troops focused on our governing references, policies and training plans,” said Jones. “EM is filled with many competitive people and this challenge allowed our younger troops to stay in sync with their training. It also allowed our NCOs and flight leadership to take a step back and just refresh on our references that govern our disciplines as both emergency managers and chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear, and hazardous material responders. At a minimum, initiating this challenge allowed us to stay engaged with our flight members every day.”
The VRC included academic and fitness portions, where members would complete workouts and send the results of those workouts to earn points toward their totals. Workouts, combined with daily quiz points, provided a total number of points for each person.
The program Jones used allowed her to see various aspects of the quizzes, a tool she used to evaluate strengths and areas of improvement.
“The app I use is a great tool for teaching, studying and virtual learning,” said Jones. “It allows me to create different types of questions and to put a timer on each question. It also provides very in-depth analytical data once a quiz is completed. I can see the average time it takes for a question to be answered, high missed questions, and it provides a report that lets me see our strengths and weaknesses as a flight and break down an individual report for each troop that highlights the areas they need more practice on.”
Quickly after the challenge was developed and implemented, Jones garnered attention from various other Air Force agencies.
“After we did this as a flight, I put it out on the Air Force EM Facebook page to offer up the quizzes I had created to other flights” said Jones. “I had great support and feedback from the field and wanted to create a way to create a career field-wide challenge.”
However, Jones wanted to be able to expand the program.
“I reached out to a few chiefs within the career field and told them that my intent was to host up to 2,000 people per challenge, as well as create open-ended questions, polls and puzzles, as well as have explanation slides after a question, which requires a premium subscription,” said Jones. “This would also create advanced reports that would give us data to truly view the strengths and weaknesses of the entire field. About 12 hours after I had mentioned that, my career field chief called me and told me that the Chiefs and the Air Force EM Association had pitched in the money and purchased the subscription.”
Shortly after posting the VRC, Jones was contacted by a member of the Air National Guard Bureau for implementation as their drill weekends move to a virtual posture.
“Staff Sgt. Jones has made amazing progress with the VRC starting with our EM Flight,” said Master Sgt. Craig Stawicki, 21st CES prime base engineer emergency force manager. “Now that the VRC is going out to the entire EM community this will improve our force as a whole.”
“The Air Force is expected to maintain a posture of readiness through discipline and lethality…every single Airman, no matter their rank nor air force specialty code. Having the Airmen from the readiness and EM career field maintaining that posture mentally and physically creates a ripple effect. This innovation will allow members to use current technologies to keep team members up-to-date with job knowledge.”
Above all, Jones wants to stress the importance of being flexible during these uncertain times.
“Modern problems require modern solutions,” said Jones. “Are pandemics new? Absolutely not. But, how we respond to them definitely has adapted and advanced over time. Gen. Goldfein said that his top priority is readiness. As members of the readiness and EM flight, we don’t get to take a back seat to that.”
“Our leadership within the Mission Support Group and the CES understand this priority and they understand and value what our training brings to the fight. We know that our mission does not and cannot stop during a pandemic. We have to continue to train and stay connected. This flight puts everything back into its troops.”
Stawicki echoed that same sentiment.
“The VRC has allowed our EM shop to continue to learn and train together, while meeting physical distancing requirements,” said Stawicki. “Just like explosive ordnance disposal and the fire department, our EM flight has members that must continuously train, which includes suiting up in protective gear. Hands on training like this has been placed on hold, due to COVID-19. But, the VRC helps keep members up-to-date on career field knowledge, encourages them to work out, and also keeps them connected.”
While training virtually may not be their first resort, Jones said members of the EM flight have to be ready for whatever challenge they may encounter.
“Our flight is filled with so much knowledge and my fellow NCOs are constantly pouring that back into the flight,” said Jones. “Our adversaries are not stopping due to this pandemic and neither can we. We have to get creative on how we are continuing to hone our skills and staying connected with our troops.”