As COVID-19 hit the United States, the University of California, Irvine (UCI) transitioned to a remote environment to protect the health and safety of students, faculty, staff and the greater community. While the move to remote was initially considered a temporary precaution, UCI has now committed to continuing remote instruction through Fall Quarter 2020.
Programs across campus have also shifted to an online setting. For instance, UCI’s ROTC program had to adapt quickly to ensure that their cadets could continue advancing with their training. Utilizing technology such as Zoom, ROTC program leaders have been able to keep up with classroom instruction on U.S. Army history, military customs, ethics and a variety of other topics.
Additionally, program leaders faced uncertainty about the ROTC training camps that normally take place over the summer. ROTC cadets all over the country typically have the opportunity to attend Basic Camp at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Attending this camp enables cadets to qualify for ROTC advanced courses (MSIII and MSIV) without having to complete their first two years of ROTC certification (MSI and MSII) in order to commission with the U.S. Army, U.S. National Guard or U.S. Army Reserve. However, inviting thousands to convene at Fort Knox posed serious health and safety concerns amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. On May 12, Major General John Evans, Commanding General for the U.S. Army Cadet Command, announced that summer training would be held on campuses and at military installations throughout the country.
Following this announcement, Cal State Fullerton Army ROTC (UCI ROTC’s host program) began planning a virtual version of summer Basic Camp. Running from August 10-14, Home Station Basic Course Lateral Entry is designed to offer instruction, training and conditioning comparable to what cadets would receive at Fort Knox.
Approximately 50 cadets are expected to participate in the Home Station Basic Course, with the majority of recruits coming from the Cal State Fullerton and UCI programs. Additional cadets from programs at over ten colleges and universities—including San Diego State Claremont McKenna College —will also attend the camp.
According to Captain Justin Nichol, head of UCI’s ROTC program and organizer of the Home Station Basic Course, enrolled cadets can expect a busy schedule, broken down as follows:
0630-0800: Physical Readiness Training
0800-0900: Personal Hygiene and Breakfast
0900-1700: Course Modules
1700-1730: Review and quizzes
While the Home Station Basic Course is mainly focused on classroom instruction, cadets can also expect to participate in a daily exercise regimen. Starting at 0630, cadets will have Physical Readiness Training. While Captain Nichol explains that this aspect of training was a little more difficult to administer in a remote setting, the program has developed a system to ensure that cadets are keeping up with their physical conditioning.
Physical Readiness Training will begin with cadets logging into Zoom and joining an instructor as they run through warm-up exercises. Then cadets will log off to complete their daily conditioning (typically in the form of a three-mile run) independently. To ensure that cadets are completing this conditioning, they will use the mobile application Strava to record their run and upload this data to a group log. ROTC instructors will be able to check the Strava logs to verify participation. Following independent conditioning, the cadets will log back on to Zoom and complete their cool-down alongside their instructor.
Due to the remote nature of the course, cadets will be unable to participate in certain physical events like basic rifle marksmanship and rappelling. However, he acknowledges that these events are great confidence boosters and provide cadets the experience necessary to catch up with their peers.
He says, “A lot of the physical events are centered around confidence and team building. Also, conducting these activities, especially in a stressful environment, will tell you a lot about yourself. This is a core aspect of Basic Camp, but we will have to conduct them throughout the academic year.” Captain Nichol goes on to explain that the Home Station Basic Course will center around knowledge-based ROTC requirements: “Our focus is on developing a good understanding of what the Army is and on teaching basic leadership fundamentals to give you a foundation as you move forward.”
Held in a fully-synchronous format, daily course modules will include typical instruction that ROTC cadets receive during their MSI and MSII years, including courses such as Army Leadership, Ethical Reasoning, Fundamentals of Leadership and Adaptive Leadership. Each module will be taught by a different instructor, providing their unique insights and perspectives.
Because instruction will be synchronous, cadets will have ample opportunity for group discussions and collaboration. This aspect of the training is particularly important because team building is a major emphasis at the usual Basic Camp. When organizing Home Station Basic Course, Captain Nichol wanted to ensure that cadets could engage with each other and their instructors.
“ROTC learning is based heavily on group discussion,” he says. “So pretty much every class will have some sort of practical exercise where cadets are kind of forced to interact in those group dynamics and have discussions and collaborate.”
At the end of each day, cadets’ understanding of the modules will be evaluated with an online quiz administered via ROTC Blackboard, the ROTC’s specially-designed online learning management system available to students across various universities. Cadets who do not meet the minimum quiz scores will have the opportunity for retraining because, as Captain Nichol notes, “The Army invests in each individual’s success and will retrain to ensure that they are fully capable.”
Though the Home Station Basic Course is certainly a departure from the normal Basic Camp format, cadets will still walk away with the necessary knowledge and experience they need to advance to MSIII. Speaking on his hopes for the course, Captain Nichols says,
Obviously it’s not ideal, but I think the type of training that cadets are going to get is a concentrated dose of leadership instruction over a condensed timeline. Not only are they getting the curriculum to set the foundation, but they’re also getting a lot of insight and feedback from a wide array of leaders from different backgrounds and experiences.