1,100 ROTC cadets from all around the country attending training at Air University despite COVID-19

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Air University is hosting more than 1,100 Air Force ROTC cadets from universities around the country this summer for their required field training despite the coronavirus pandemic.

That number is less than half the number of cadets that would normally show up for field training in a non-pandemic year, and it reflects the aggressive COVID-19 mitigation plan in place to ensure the health and safety of cadets, training staff and military community.

Air Force ROTC headquarters staff has worked for months to build a plan using the best practices and lessons learned from those developed by Basic Military Training and Officer Training School to continue their training missions through the pandemic.

Just like BMT and OTS, ROTC field training has been deemed mission essential by Air Education and Training Command. Further, the training is an assessment tool to objectively evaluate a cadet’s personal and professional development toward becoming a commissioned officer.

Cadets selected to attend field training are usually rising juniors. Successfully completing field training marks a transition in their ROTC education, moving them from the general military courses to the professional officer courses section of the program and assuming leadership roles within their respective detachments. 

This year’s AFROTC’s field training plan included bringing in fewer cadets to reduce the possible introduction of the virus, and because in pre-pandemic years, ROTC would share classroom and lodging space with OTS, but the school is now operating as a “closed campus” environment to mitigate introduction of the virus within its ranks.

“Our AFROTC enterprise has shown amazing agility, flexibility and innovation as we’ve reacted and adjusted to the COVID-19 circumstance,” said Col. Christopher Bennett, AFROTC commander. “Our field training team at headquarters has worked through 25 different courses of action over the past three months, each a significant labor of effort to work travel, lodging, feeding, COVID-19 protection and most importantly, the training and assessment of our cadets.”

In a normal year, about 2,600 cadets would rotate through field training, with about 430 cadets in each of the six 13-day training cycles, or “MAX.” This year, 1,152 cadets will cycle through three training cycles—MAX A, B and C—of about 384 cadets per MAX. The first MAX started July 3 and graduated July 15, with MAX C ending August 20.

Before traveling to Maxwell, cadets are directed to self-quarantine for 14 days at their home locations and complete a pre-screening questionnaire before travel. After getting to the base, they are pre-screened again, issued face coverings, tested for the virus and isolated for two days pending the test results. Following this time period, the cadets are divided up into flights of 16.

“The flight will be their ‘family’ throughout field training,” said Maj. Jeff Klingensmith, deputy director of operations, AFROTC. “They will maintain social distancing from every other flight and only intermingle within their own flight.”

Other preventative steps being taken include twice daily temperature checks; limiting the number of cadets per dormitory room from four to two; eating meals as a flight separated from the other flights; and wear of face masks to the greatest extent possible.

Should a cadet become symptomatic, said Klingensmith, the entire flight, to include the training staff assigned to the flight, will be isolated using the quarantine management process established by Maxwell’s 42nd Medical Group.

“The most important takeaway is that we have a multiple layers of protocols, screening, monitoring and ‘tripwires’ to keep our cadets and cadre safe,” said Bennett. “We have coordinated and communicated with the Defense Health Agency and AETC surgeon general’s office and have the advice and consultation of the 42nd Medical Group, who are imbedded in our field training cadre.”

With the pandemic having been declared only a few months ago, having a detailed and coordinated plan in place for this summer’s field training has been a monumental achievement, he said.

“Our AFROTC enterprise and Maxwell teammates have shown amazing agility, flexibility and innovation as we’ve reacted and adjusted to the COVID-19 circumstance,” said Bennett. “We’ve modified many aspects of our field training program, from transport to dining to actual training execution, yet in doing so, keeping the essential pillars of our program intact. The creativity and innovation of our team to achieve that outcome has been phenomenal.”

Bennett and other AFROTC leaders held a livestream town hall on Facebook recently to discuss the field training plan and to answer questions from viewers. To watch the town hall, click here.

By Billy Blankenship, Air University Public Affairs