214 Sqn Teleconferences Bring Reserve Training Online

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“Parade nights and weekend training are cancelled for at least the next three weeks…” the e-mail read. “We are working on a plan to limit the impact that this measure will have on our soldiers…”

That announcement came on March 14th from Major (Maj) Maxime Feuillat, Officer Commanding of 21 EW Regiment’s Reserve 214 Squadron, shortly before unprecedented physical distancing measures were put in place across Canada.

Immediately, a group of 214 Squadron senior leadership began work on a plan that would allow training to continue for the remainder of the year.

“I have run webinar programs for non-profits,” Sergeant (Sgt) Aldred wrote back that same evening. “I would be glad to support unit training as needed.”

 

 

Sergeant Aldred delivers a webinar on NATO map symbols from his home in Picton, Ontario

 

 

 

 

A flurry of activity followed in which Maj Feuillat, Sgt Aldred, Warrant Officer (WO) Sparks and other unit members tested out a range of online teleconferencing systems, including Join.me and Cisco’s WebEx. The group went through the battle rhythm of a typical parade night, stress testing a system that would need to host close to a hundred soldiers at once.

“I can’t hear you,” Sgt Aldred said in what has become a familiar refrain to home-bound workers across Canada.

“My microphone only works if I hold the cable in place…” came the reply.

Maj Feuillat soon settled on Cisco’s WebEx as the system of choice. Captain (Capt) Colin MacGregor, the 214 Squadron second-in-command, was the first instructor while Sergeant Aldred acted as facilitator.

A list of webinar best practices was drafted and circulated in advance of Thursday night training:
– Keep your microphone muted unless you need to speak;
– Use headphones or a headset to limit the sound of feedback;
– Try to reduce video streaming by your household during the webinar; and
– Never run a microwave while on call, as it interferes with Wi-Fi.

The initial training night got off to a slow start. More than eighty participants joined, many of whom were new to online teleconferencing. Some members did not have microphones. Others joined from phones or tablets.

Ultimately, however, the training succeeded beyond Maj Feuillat’s expectations.

“COVID-19 will not stop us from getting ready to support Canada,” said Maj Feuillat. “Our soldiers have the will, resourcefulness and ingenuity to keep training despite this adversity. I am proud to see how they have embraced the challenge and made this a success.”

214 Squadron has since run webinar training for four parade nights, and two training weekends. Lessons have covered a diverse range of subjects, from Canadian Armed Forces capabilities to NATO map symbols and open source intelligence (OSINT).

Participants in the webinars are able to listen to the instructor’s voice while viewing the slide deck, and can pose questions via text chat or microphone. Interactive polls can be used to capture attendance and to perform knowledge checks.

 

 

214 Sqn soldiers take part in an online webinar via Cisco’s WebEx

 

 

 

 

Beyond traditional PowerPoint instruction, 214 Squadron has also begun to introduce practical assignments and plans are underway to create an online exercise.

“Online teleconferencing can seem limiting at first,” Sergeant Aldred noted, “but this gives us the chance to imagine training without the constraints of equipment, weather, or geographic area.”

While many 214 Squadron members have put themselves forward for both Operation LASER and Operation LENTUS, several of the squadron’s members do not meet the minimum training requirements. For these members in particular, the online webinar training has proven a valuable source of learning and comradery.

“This training has allowed me to continue with the unit, and gain confidence towards my future BMQ training,” said Officer Cadet (OCdt) Kathleen Harrison. “This speaks to the value which Squadron leadership places on developing us as soldiers.”

“The webinars have provided me with an abundance of information on multiple military topics,” added Private (Pte) Francine Baynham. “I’m looking forward to more.”

214 Squadron has since gone on to establish a virtual lounge where members can socialize after training, chat and even play a round of chess. Former unit members have also joined the lounge, further promoting sub-unit cohesion and a sense of the Sqn’s history.

And while 214 Squadron looks forward to the resumption of training at unit lines, the Primary Reserve element of 21 EW Regiment is now poised to sustain online training through the summer, or even indefinitely and has provided tangible results for which the remainder of the Regiment will look to implement as a whole.

“Now to train the troops to give themselves haircuts…” Sgt Aldred joked.

 

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