Information Warfare Training Command Virginia Beach Employs Virtual Training to Help Keep Sailors, America Safe

28 April 2020

From Glenn Sircy

Today, with the extraordinary challenges posed by COVID-19 pandemic, and the continual threats our nation faces in a changing global security environment, the entire Center for Information Warfare Training Command (CIWT) domain is employing new and exploring additional training initiatives...

Today, with the extraordinary challenges posed by COVID-19 pandemic, and the continual threats our nation faces in a changing global security environment, the entire Center for Information Warfare Training Command (CIWT) domain is employing new and exploring additional training initiatives to support the delivery of trained, mission essential information warfare professionals who are prepared to fight and win for the Navy, joint services and nation.

In an effort to continue mission essential training while protecting the American people and its force during this COVID-19 pandemic, Information Warfare Training Command (IWTC) Virginia Beach, one of four commands that report to CIWT, recently developed and launched a hybrid, virtualized Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA 2) block of instruction of its Systems Administrator Course for 15 fleet information systems technicians.

“With COVID-19 making a rapid spread across the globe and social distancing being one of the primary means of prevention, the IWTC Virginia Beach team was eager to find a way to continue to meet training requirements while adhering to the social distancing guidelines to protect the health of our staff and students,” shared Lt. Cmdr. Brielle Adamovich, executive officer, IWTC Virginia Beach. “Remote/online learning expands the commander’s options for continuity of operations during a crisis, like the pandemic we are currently experiencing now. At the same time, this pilot makes strides toward assessing the possibility of providing some or all of certain Navy pipeline training without a brick-and-mortar schoolhouse, ultimately reducing TDY [temporary duty travel] timelines and cost while giving Sailors access to our expert instructors and accredited curriculum from anywhere. The most exciting part of this endeavor is the grass-roots creativity and drive from our instructor staff that made a simple idea become a reality, with the hope of improving opportunities for the Sailors in our not-so-distant future.”

The CCNA 2 block of instruction covers the architecture, components and operations of routers and switches in a small network. Students learn how to configure a router and switch for basic functionality. The 70-hour, instructor-led course is the first of four courses in the Cisco CCNA routing and switching curriculum. CCNA 2 is commercial-off-the-shelf courseware used in the Systems Administrator Course, and Navy students complete CCNA 1 in earlier accession-level training while CCNA 2 is completed during follow-on training.

“The hybrid training initiative was an idea first introduced by Kismet Clark, the course supervisor,” shared Chief Information Systems Technician LaTia Anderson with IWTC Virginia Beach. “Lt. Cmdr. Adamovich got together with the Systems Administrative Course team to brainstorm different ways to social distance under our current circumstances. Information Systems Technician 1st Class Loyda Rivera and Mr. Clark, devised a detailed plan to utilize virtual training resources to ensure social distancing was observed to the maximum extent while continuing to meet training objectives and maintaining the integrity of the course. Together, they tested out different video conferencing platforms, finally settling on Cisco Webex which had all the tools we needed to provide the students with a learning experience equal to the one they would get in a classroom setting.”

The main challenge the IWTC Virginia Beach has encountered with the virtual training is the inability to gauge student comprehension based on body language and facial expressions, especially introverted or reflective learners. Normally, in a classroom setting, it is fairly simple to recognize when a student is under an immense amount of stress because they do not understand all the material being covered or they feel overwhelmed with the amount of material covered each training day. In those cases, the instructor can take time to address any confusion and bring the student up to speed.

“When you are teaching lessons virtually, most times we are looking at the screens of the students as they work through their labs or follow along with the lesson, in which case you are essentially relying solely on the student to ask for help or voice their own difficulties,” said Rivera. “Additionally, it was a challenge teaching the students subnetting concepts without the use of a white board as visual aid. The instructors took their time to create additional resources to help explain subnetting concepts to the students and also offered virtual remediation as well as in-person remediation on days they reported to the schoolhouse to complete knowledge and skills test.”

The innovation of virtual learning in this course is unique and was accomplished due to desire to meet social distancing protocols. However, it is also an appropriate example of where the Navy is heading with Ready, Relevant Learning, one of the Navy’s Sailor 2025 key initiatives with a focus on providing Sailors the right training at the right time throughout their career, and the modernization of Navy training. While technology is ever-evolving before our eyes, the Navy is using these technology advancements to its advantage to train and prepare Sailors to fight and win.

"I feel like training online was extremely beneficial, especially with the given state of the world right now,” said Information Systems Technician 1st Class Geoffrey Smith, a student in the course. “After completing the course, I feel it covered all the basic network foundations and fundamentals that every junior or senior IT professional will need to succeed in both the civilian sector and in the military. From a mission standpoint, it definitely will help with understanding internal and external network communications."

The virtualized training initiative may also help mitigate future training impacts.

“Although this has proven to be very successful and useful during this COVID-19 pandemic, we are looking forward to being able to implement virtual learning during snow days or increased weather conditions when practical,” said Clark. “We no longer have to lose or make up training days when the base is closed for two days due to snow, and the students have also been very excited to participate in virtual learning. It makes it easier as an instructor to teach using a new platform when you have an audience that is just as exited to learn using this new platform.”

Navy information systems technicians should know that although current world circumstances are less than desirable, Sailors that participate in the course will still get the best training IWTC Virginia Beach has to offer, regardless of how they deliver the training. Their job is to send qualified system administrators to the fleet, and that is just what they will do!

“This was a great initiative, and I was impressed with how quickly we were able to develop the concept, get approval and move to execution,” said Capt. Richard Bosworth, commanding officer, IWTC Virginia Beach. “This hybrid proof of concept course allowed us to maintain the health and safety of our staff and students while still accomplishing mission.”

As the COVID-19 crisis has forced Americans from all walks of life to alter their normal patterns of behavior in order to stay healthy and contain the spread of the virus, the entire CIWT domain team is working hard to maximize its resources and capabilities to faithfully execute the priorities established by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in response to the COVID-19 crisis: Protect our people, maintain warfighting readiness, and fully support the whole of government/whole of nation response to protect the American people.

IWTC Virginia Beach, located in Dam Neck Annex, currently offers 65 courses of instruction in information technology, cryptology, and intelligence with an instructor and support staff of 280 military, civilian, and contractors who train over 6,500 students every year. It is one of four schoolhouses for the Center for Information Warfare Training (CIWT) and oversees learning sites at Jacksonville and Mayport, Florida; Kings Bay, Georgia; and Groton, Connecticut to continue aligning IW community training.

With four schoolhouse commands, two detachments, and training sites throughout the United States and Japan, CIWT trains over 20,000 students every year, delivering trained information warfare professionals to the Navy and joint services. CIWT also offers more than 200 courses for cryptologic technicians, intelligence specialists, information systems technicians, electronics technicians, and officers in the information warfare community.


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