By Brad Rhen
A group of instructors here recently began teaching a virtual leadership course to National Guard Soldiers deployed around the world.
The instructors are part of the new Army National Guard-Forward Virtual Basic Leadership Course (vBLC). They are housed at the 166th Regiment Regional Training Institute and use some of the same curriculum the RTI used for its own virtual courses but are technically independent from the RTI, said Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Chirdon, commandant of the ARNG Forward vBLC.
“They’re supporting us logistically and pretty much giving us everything we need to sustain the program, down to computers, but we are independent,” Chirdon said.
Chirdon and the six instructors originally were supposed to be deployed to Camp Buehring, Kuwait, and teach the course in-person to active-duty, National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers, but that mission was ultimately cancelled.
After the cancellation, the National Guard Bureau identified a need to continue to provide Soldiers an opportunity to attend BLC while deployed, Chirdon said. Using the team that was organized to execute the Kuwait mission, NGB formed ARNG Forward vBLC to provide the course to deployed National Guard Soldiers in all theaters.
The instructors that were originally destined for Kuwait – National Guard Soldiers from Arizona, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Carolina – were put on orders for Fort Indiantown Gap with the mission to stand up and operate the virtual school house for NGB.
Chirdon, who is the command sergeant major for the Pennsylvania National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment, is the only team member from Pennsylvania.
“Everything about this is National Guard,” Chirdon said. “It’s run by Guard, and it’s only for Guard, which makes it kind of unique.”
The course began on Dec. 1 with about 60 students from 10 different states who are deployed to eight different countries. Among those taking the course are Soldiers from the PNG’s 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade who are deployed to several different countries in the U.S. Central Command area of operations.
The course is virtual, as opposed to distance learning, so instructors and students have to both log on at the same time.
“We are operating the course based on the hours overseas,” Chirdon said. “So my team is going to be working from roughly 2300 until 0700, which will put people overseas on a normal day schedule.”
The overseas setup depends on the Soldiers’ leadership, Chirdon said. It could be Soldiers doing it on their own or together with a group of other Soldiers, he said.
“It’s however they can get it done,” he said. “If you go back to the COVID model for Soldiers state-side, the students were at home on their own computers doing it from their homes. This could be anything.”
Chirdon said it’s important for deployed soldiers to have an opportunity to attend BLC. Otherwise, he said, Soldiers who are in a promotable status would have to wait until their deployment is over, then attend BLC so they can be promoted.
“These Soldiers are put in a slot, and they just need the school, and once they get the school, they’ll be promoted,” he said. “If they were CONUS – stateside – they would have the opportunity to go to school, now they’re deployed and they’re still an E4 and don’t have the opportunity to do it.”
Having the opportunity to attend the school can affect a Soldier’s morale since getting promoted affects their pay, Chirdon said.
“You’ve taken them and deployed them, and they should be getting paid as an E5 so as soon as they get the school they can get that,” he said. “It’s a big deal for them.”
The course is 23 days long, and Chirdon said the instructors will conduct 10 classes between now and September 2021.
Chirdon said he is very appreciative of all the support he and his instructors have received from the 166th RTI.
“They’ve given us everything,” he said. “They bent over backwards for us.”