JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas --
For the last 20 to 30 years, staff members of the 12th Flying Training Wing’s 12th Operations Group have tackled flying operations traditionally. Then, in mid-March, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and changed everything.
Fast forward three months, and the enthusiasm of Col. Rob Ludington, 12th OG commander, emanates through the screen during a Commercial Virtual Remote Teams’ video chat interview.
“We use the phrase that, 'We like to be humble, credible, approachable and professional instructor pilots,” Ludington said. “Part of that is carrying a certain demeanor, which includes things like shaking people's hands.”
Before COVID-19, the members of the 12th OG were busy producing the world’s best instructor pilots. There were no requirements to “mask up” or “social distance.”
In January, COVID-19 started as a whisper.
“Messages started coming out through the media, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all the way up to leadership in the White House,” said Maj. Nathan Moseley, 12th OG innovation officer. Then, we saw policy changes at the 59th Medical Wing and the 12th Operations Group.”
In mid-March, COVID-19 elevated to a loud roar.
“I very much remember the first day that COVID started affecting us because I was in the 99th Flying Training Squadron and we got tasked to come up with a better way to do social distancing,” said Maj. Marcus Mosher, 12th OG deputy chief of innovation. “We needed to figure out how we were going to apply this because our briefing rooms are small.”
The members of the 12th OG knew that if they contracted the virus, they would not be able to fly. Furthermore, they would have to enact additional protocols to keep their coworkers and family members safe.
“What we desired was a secure way to remotely video conference, message and share files, and that is where CVR Teams came along,” Moseley said. “It allowed us to share the information that we use in our mission planning, briefing and debriefings.”
A testament to the adaptation, CVR Environment was a platform created by the Department of Defense to enable the armed services to transition to a telework environment. The service enables collaborations through capabilities such as chat, video, virtual meetings, screen share, document collaboration and storage.
By late March, members of the 12th OG were greeting each other by bumping elbows and tapping toes, and they were also utilizing the virtual or online environment as much as possible.
Mosher and Moseley said access to CVR was a game-changer.
For some, using CVR opened up a whole new technological world. Documents are moving seamlessly from the Air Force network to personal phones and computers. Messages are being sent and received without getting bogged down in traditional email services.
“For example, I've got pilots who sit up in each of our towers every day who monitor the flying operation, and they work directly for me as the group commander,” Ludington said. “Now, one of the primary ways they communicate with me is using Teams to send me messages in real time from the tower, and I just read it on my cellphone. It is an incredibly effective and efficient way to share information with a large group of people. That's why I don’t want it to go away; it’s enabling our mission. I want to keep it, regardless of COVID-19.”
For younger Airmen who used collaboration tools in college, Teams is a welcomed improvement that is making the 12th OG stronger.
“We’ve got to realize that people taking their first oath of office today have not known a world without reliable, immediate, remote technologies and connectivity,” Moseley said.
Mosher and Moseley believe giving 21st century Airmen technology that moves at 21st-century speeds will help with recruitment and retention across the Air Force.
“They will say, ‘I'm going to stay in the Air Force past my initial commitment because I now have these great tools,’” Mosher said. “It allows me the flexibility that I can't get other places.”
In the future, the members of 12th OG see CVR being embedded into all aspects of mission planning, regardless of COVID-19.
“I think we’ll go back to the way we were doing business before, but we don’t want to regress and throw away the good progress we’ve made with respect to mobile activity,” Moseley said. “While we can go back to work, we can't go back in time, with respect to the tools we've been given.”