NEWS | March 9, 2021

MSC Virtual Training Prepares Sailors For Warfighting Support On Day One

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alex Vantleven

The fleet replenishment oiler USNS Tippecanoe (T-AO 199) conducts a replenishment at sea with USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54), an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer.  Tippecanoe and other ships in Military Sealift Command Far East’s combat logistics force keep U.S. and international partners’ ships operating in the Indo-Pacific Region supplied with all the essentials, including food, fuel, spare parts, and all the fixings for a traditional Thanksgiving meal. (U.S. Navy photo by Christopher Bosch)
SLIDESHOW | 1 images | Reserve Military Sealift Sailors get hands-on training virtually The fleet replenishment oiler USNS Tippecanoe (T-AO 199) conducts a replenishment at sea with USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54), an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer. Tippecanoe and other ships in Military Sealift Command Far East’s combat logistics force keep U.S. and international partners’ ships operating in the Indo-Pacific Region supplied with all the essentials, including food, fuel, spare parts, and all the fixings for a traditional Thanksgiving meal. (U.S. Navy photo by Christopher Bosch)

Military Sealift Command Reserve Component personnel participated in a series of virtual MSC Expeditionary Port Unit (EPU) Center of Excellence (COE) courses.

The two-week EPU COE courses, held three times from July to August, 2021, provided 164 students an in-depth look into how MSC operates, its mission, and the contributions each member of the MSC team makes to mission accomplishment.

A cadre of COE instructors, which included Surface Warfare Officers (SWO), Strategic Sealift Officers (SSO), and senior enlisted leaders within MSC who have merchant mariner experience, used a Distributed Learning concept based on the Joint Forces Staff College model to conduct the training.

“Distributed learning was beneficial because it allowed personnel in all time zones, from the East Coast through Hawaii, to attend real time without travelling,” said Capt. Roger Ouimet, commanding officer of the Navy Reserve Military Sealift Office, Korea, and COE senior instructor. “Briefs were shared; students raised their hands for questions or comments, and files were shared, so it was a MSC training force multiplier.”

Instructors and attendees alike said the virtual approach offered a solid alternative to the typical combination of classroom and pier-side port operations. They added it demonstrated how a team can come together and focus on developing a format that supports the Chief of Naval Operation’s Accelerated Learning Line of Effort, even as students continue to get comfortable with the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Commercial Virtual Remote (CVR) platform.

Because much of the MSC mission involves the timely relay of ongoing port and cargo operations information, the virtual aspect of the training helped provide troubleshooting-lessons for Sailors who may need to resolve communication issues while in the field.

“This (virtual distributed learning) has offered another solid option in communicating in real time. With enough bandwidth, area commands and MSC Headquarters can now see and hear real time on the pier what the status of operations are,” added Ouimet.

The course not only bolstered students’ abilities to communicate virtually, but it also challenged them to make use of other military facilities, such as Coast Guard Reserve offices and National Guard Armories, in addition to Navy Operational Support Centers (NOSC) from New York to Pearl Harbor.

“Most participants, both instructors and students, were on Annual Training (AT) or Active Duty for Training (ADT) orders.” said Capt. Don Babcock, commanding officer of Navy Reserve MSC Far East Headquarters and COE senior instructor.

Students began the course with MSC foundational training, receiving 16 briefings presented by subject-matter-experts, covering topics relating to the MSC mission, port operations, U.S. Transportation Command, type-command (TYCOM) roles and responsibilities, MSC area commands, MSC Far East overview of operations and responsibilities, merchant vessel crews, merchant vessel types, and Navy message traffic.

Additionally, several Navy eLearning courses were incorporated into the curriculum and included courses such as chemical, biological, radiological defense and M16 and 9MM familiarization eLearning — all core MSC training requirements.

Complementary to the MSC baseline training, students also completed “MSC 101,” an intensive Navy eLearning course all EPU Sailors are expected to complete. While MSC 101 provides a high level of knowledge regarding the MSC EPU mission, the COE instructors were able to provide students with insights from current and former MSC personnel who have real-world experience.

The course syllabus itself was designed in parallel with the COMSCINST 3100.1B, Expeditionary Port Unit (EPU) Training & Readiness Job Qualification Requirements (JQR) Instruction.

Throughout the two-week period, students participated in daily knowledge checks to reinforce course discussions. The course culminated in tabletop scenario exercises based on actual situations faced by EPUs in the past and a written final exam. The ultimate goal of the curriculum was to prepare each student to complete the JQR and attain qualification once returning to their parent units for oral board assessments.

Attendees from other Navy Reserve MSC units also benefitted from the course as the material led to their own unit qualifications.

“I have no MSC shore-side experience, but I do have experience working with MSC ships. As a security team mission commander, our 12-man team provided security on four different MSC ships throughout the Central Command area of responsibility,” said Chief Operations Specialist David Luptowski, MSC Far East Headquarters. “The biggest thing I learned during this COE was how to use new communications tools and techniques to stay connected to the command.”

Hands-on experience can be indispensable in equipping Sailors and officers with the tools they need to carry out their given missions. Unfortunately, that was not possible with this iteration of the course.

“Without being able to take students to a ship to see ship operations firsthand — innovative ideas were needed to overcome the challenges the pandemic presented,” said Babcock. “Fortunately, we were able to enroll a plethora of subject matter experts who could share their experiences and deliver the training virtually using Teams and incorporating photos, charts and other tools to provide visual aspects to the training.”

According to Capt. Don Moore, director of Center of Excellence and commanding officer of Navy Reserve MSC EPU 115, the effort made an impact, not only on the force but on individual attendees, regardless of their experience levels.

“The COE provided excellent (overview) training to Reserve Sailors newly affiliated with MSC and a great reset and refresher for seasoned MSC Sailors — something that while conducting real-time operations, we do not always have the time to focus on,” Moore said. “As Reserve component Sailors rotate every 24 to 36 months, the COE assists Selected Reserve unit leadership with the onboarding process by providing a foundational level of knowledge for our MSC Sailors before they deploy forward on AT/ADT orders in support of exercises and operations or in support of a contingency operation.”

Regardless of delivery method, COE courses provide students with a high level of operational knowledge and ability to execute the mission. MSC will continue ensuring a large base of Reserve Sailors are always trained and ready to execute the mission from the first day on the job.