By Navy Supply Corps School Public Affairs and Staff
Responding quickly to the critical training gap caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Navy Supply Corps School (NSCS) transitioned to a virtual learning environment in less than 14 days. Mission-essential training has been sustained and delivered in full compliance with all social distancing and safety protocols. Conversely, necessary safety protocols have reduced human-to-human interaction, significantly degrading the command’s ability to imbue the Supply Corps’ distinctive culture and ethos to newly assessed officers.
A critical element to the Supply Corps community’s success resides in our culture of excellence, as demonstrated by our shared ethical compass, esprit-de-corps, cooperative attitudes, resourcefulness, selfless customer service, and military bearing. Demonstrating and imbuing these distinctive cultural traits are essential functions of the Basic Qualification Course’s (BQC) mission. During 20 weeks of resident instruction, students are consistently exposed to our cultural values and closely mentored for understanding and compliance. The recent shift to online curriculum delivery diminished our ability to verify and accommodate specific individual needs that are primarily facilitated by close instructor observation.
Instilling our community values during the BQC creates the foundation for personal and professional success. During this pandemic, we are reminded of former Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ leadership principle: “Attitudes are caught, not taught.” Every student graduates BQC with a baseline level of knowledge and technical competence; and, despite an altered instructional approach, this will not change. However, there are numerous intangible qualities expected of Supply Corps officers - attributes not learned from a publication. It is these character traits and attitudes that turn competent officers into outstanding, authentic leaders. NSCS staff perfectly embody the innovation and flexibility required to prevail over any challenge, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no different. Even while operating in a virtual environment, our staff remains committed to building team focus and group cohesion by establishing a sense of tribal identity and
NSCS leverages online platforms, such as DoD Learn and Microsoft Teams to facilitate student/instructor interaction, aligning with relevant practices in academia. These collaborative tools enable instructors to enforce community values through meaningful engagement, leveraging the full spectrum of verbal and nonverbal cues observed during video and forum discussions. Most BQC students are millennial or Generation Z individuals, accustomed to substantial classroom technology use. Changing workforce demographics, and the current pandemic, dictate the necessity to modify our instructional approach, thoroughly demonstrating NSCS’ educational agility and responsiveness while maximizing effectiveness.
Social interactions are typically lost in distanced learning models; however, NSCS continues to incorporate new ways to encourage personal connection. Students in our department head courses practice virtual breakout room “social hour” to supplement the lack of face-to-face interaction. NSCS staff immediately adopted virtual town halls to share ideas and insights to help adapt to the new challenges posed by the COVID-19 environment. NSCS quickly adapted to overcome this new environment.
NSCS established esprit-de-corps building events, to include the Command Fitness Leader’s Corner; “Good Vibes for the Tribe,” highlighting good news worth sharing; Heritage Committee monthly newsletters; and virtual command challenges to increase resiliency and enrich staff and student interaction. These events are all currently accommodated through Microsoft Teams and DoD Learn with positive feedback and participation. Future events will involve more creativity and technology use to facilitate continued cohesion.
Students were also encouraged to utilize Next-Jump’s Deliberately Developmental Organization feedback application as a virtual “CO’s Suggestion Box,” to mitigate organizational silence. The app’s use encourages and offers NSCS leadership the opportunity to train students to provide constructive feedback when addressed during weekly CO calls. This initiative has enhanced leadership situational awareness, engagement, and tribe connectedness. While positive feedback is encouraging, critical feedback leads to greater leadership insights, and subsequently more constructive and thoughtful changes.
NSCS continues to foster the Supply Corps’ culture of excellence through innovative and resourceful initiatives. The learning environment has changed, but our efforts to develop new Supply Corps officers who embody the community’s distinctive ethos and culture have not. Mattis shared another strategic principle which bears repeating in this uncertain and dynamic environment: “Culture trumps doctrine and tactics.” As we forge the next generation’s premier warfighting mission enablers, our procedures evolve, but our culture of excellence remains the same. We are always “Ready for Sea.”