JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – The COVID-19 pandemic has had, and is still, having a devastating effect on the world. It is a global struggle that has touched the livelihoods of many regardless of any factor that would usually be identified as a difference. Still, many organizations have had to adapt and readjust to persevere through these trying times. The 637th Training Group, alongside all three squadrons within the Defense Language Institute English Learning Center (DLIELC), had to come together swiftly — the outcome being building a more resilient organization with more tools in their toolbox.
On March 5, 2020, DLIELC staff received a notice to be cautious of overseas travel due to COVID-19. A few weeks later, the Department of Defense (DoD) released a memorandum ordering a “stop movement” for all military personnel, civilians, and dependents on government funded travel. Soon, the DLIELC campus would transition into something never seen before. Similar to other organizations across the world, DLIELC moved to an unprecedented mode of operations.
Most of the DLIELC staff left their classrooms and offices to begin teleworking from home. Mobile Training Teams (MTTs), once providing English instruction worldwide, were canceled and recalled back to the United States. International students on the DLIELC campus had to adjust from classroom instruction to learning English virtually from a computer or laptop within their dorms.
“We had to figure out how to implement teleworking throughout the group and supply computers to the staff so they could telework,” explained Chad Humphrey, director, 637th Training Support Squadron. “We also needed to equip students with the ability to complete on-line training. We had previously issued laptops to a small portion of the student population, but COVID forced us to innovate and complete that capability for all students. To prepare for the future, we are ordering an additional 500 laptops to support our maximum student capacity which will also support the Learning Management System (LMS).”
With the introduction of vaccinations and COVID-19 precautions, DLIELC is starting to resume a semblance of normal operations. The overseas mission has resumed in six countries with more sites pending continuation in the coming months.
“Although our MTTs were grounded for most of last year, they have come back online over the past couple months. Fortunately, we have been able to send several teams out while dealing with special requirements down-range that will enable our teams to perform the mission safely,” stated Lt. Col. Clifford Anderson, commander, 637th International Support Squadron.
The DLIELC training staff has mastered the adoption of new software to conduct meetings and provide instruction remotely. Some of this software is even being used to train individuals not present on DLIELC’s campus; this is a capability that DLIELC did not previously possess.
“COVID-19 was a change agent propelling us towards modernization and procedural reviews to meet our international partner needs,” said Lt. Col. Geoffrey Brasse, commander, 332nd Training Squadron. “Each element of our innovation was a bottom-up approach where the instructor, tester, or curriculum member chased ideas and let us know what was or was not working and requested the appropriate resources. This empowered approach implemented effective change in a matter of days rather than weeks or longer.”
Additionally, DLIELC was able to complete the beta test for the USAF Echo Flight Program, the opening of the new Aviation Language Training Center, and has jumpstarted Air University's Holm Center’s Puerto Rico Project Language initiative to diversify the USAF Officer cadre.
Col. Kouji Gillis, DLIELC commandant, added: “I’m very proud of how our people quickly adapted to the pandemic, looked for innovative ways to take care of our teammates, and kept our critical mission moving forward. Despite the COVID threat, I believe we can find some goodness that came out this past year at many different levels — in the international sphere, Department of Defense, U.S. Air Force and DLIELC. Strengthening relationships, innovating, integrating, and collaborating while allowing our personnel to be creative and learning how to operate in various environments is a great example of how our DLIELC family has fought through COVID-19 and other multi-dimensional threats this past year.”