Virtual Battle Assemblies: Is this the New Normal?

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Recently, the world has been ravished by a new threat. This threat has changed each individual’s daily interaction. In fact as many of us are aware, it has changed corporate and even military interactions. How has the Army and specifically the Army Reserve accommodated these new behaviors and social norms? Well, the Army Reserve answered this question by asking another question, “Can Soldiers accomplish their readiness task on their own and without direct oversight?” In response, the Virtual Battle Assembly was created.

All around the nation Reservists that would normally be attending an in-person formation at a local Reserve Center or military installation began calling in to conference numbers and using Microsoft Teams to report their presence. Some may say, “What!? How do you actually have accountability?” Well, that really depended on each organization and the individual servicemember. Integrity, an Army value that is touted often, was tested.

At HHC, 104th Division, located at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, the platform created involved physical training (PT) and various checkpoints throughout the day. PT was at the servicemembers own pace, but was strongly encouraged to be timed and videotaped to create a competitive environment throughout the formation. Each section was assigned a conference line number and each section had section tasks as well as the required online training put out by the Company Commander. Each section leader was required to give status reports to the Commander as to their section’s progress for pay and accountability purposes.

 

And so, the Army Reserve responded with Virtual Battle Assemblies to the current threat. Did it work? Multiple Soldiers were interviewed from various sections within HHC and many felt it was a success overall.

Sgt. Tang (Supply NCO) stated, “it was a very successful virtual battle assembly for me. The commander and 1st Sgt sent out instructions and individual tasks two weeks before the VBA, which helped a lot. I started completing those tasks as soon as I received the instructions. One of the biggest benefits of that is internet connection…I find myself more productive working from home with less disruptions from others [by assisting with my other duty task]. I would not have been as productive if [I was] working in the office.”

Staff Sgt. Mariscol (G6) felt it was a good way to accomplish essential military tasks. “Working from home had advantages and disadvantages. The ability to navigate sites with greater speed allowed for JKO classes to be completed quicker without network lag. The layout was easy to do without room constraints. The accountability was easy to get from the platoon as we used Teams from Microsoft to account for who was on and used this tool to hold all meetings.”

Master Sgt. Williams (G3) was also very candid when expressing his outlook on the past two weekends, “VBA is something that each Commander should take a look at to see how it can work as a COUP plan. We can refine and retool as technology and ideas are spurred from the pandemic. [It is one plan to] ensure Soldiers stay engaged for a 60-90 day period. A lot of [us] need that type of structure, interaction and even some of [us] rely on the additional income…VBA allowed us to get the ankle biter task completed…”

And, after speaking to Master Sgt. Hilliard (G1), it was clear that one thing was missing from a VBA, face to face interaction. Incorporating Microsoft Teams eased some of that dissatisfaction, but for her it is critical to have that human contact.

As a matter of opinion, according to the servicemembers at the 104th, this platform may have a place in the future of the Army Reserve. At minimum, it is a reasonable resource to be used in extreme circumstances or in the event that funding may not allow for face to face training. However, it is obvious that the Army Reserve doesn’t want its Soldiers to fall behind on mandatory training as well as keeping servicemembers funded even if it is only additional income. Personally, I am appreciative of the efforts made by the full-time staff and TPUs within each section to make VBA a success. KUDOS! Stay Army Strong!!!

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