Senior Enlisted Academy achieves mission success through virtual training during COVID-19

Senior Chief Aviation Maintenance Administrationman Amy Santos, a faculty advisor at the Senior Enlisted Academy (SEA), reviews essays written by students of the SEA course, May 13. The SEA is a 10-week leadership development program for active and reserve senior enlisted leaders from the U.S. Navy, Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and National Guard, as well as from our international service partners.

NEWPORT, R.I. - The Senior Enlisted Academy (SEA) transitioned from an in-residence (IR) training atmosphere to an all-virtual training environment to accommodate the changes to policy due to Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19).

SEA had an advantage in adjusting to online learning due to previously having the beginning of its course completed online.

"The SEA originally shifted to a hybrid course in 2015, conducting seven of the 11-week course via an online learning platform," said Command Master Chief Jason Avin, SEA director. "Because the SEA has years of lessons learned and is proficient in the virtual environment, the swift but temporary transition to a completely online education experience during the COVID-19 crisis, although challenging, was accomplished without any delay."

According to Senior Chief Aviation Maintenance Administrationman Amy Santos, a faculty advisor at SEA, although SEA has experience with virtual training, the transition had a fair share of difficulties.

"Different time zones made this style of learning difficult, but not all together impossible," said Santos. "I also noticed it was difficult for the students to open up in the virtual environment because they did not have an opportunity to develop a foundation of trust and understanding of their personalities like they would in a classroom."

Master Chief Lars Apitz, a member of the German navy and another SEA faculty advisor, agreed with Santos by stating while online meetings are valuable, they cannot replace the intense discussions and exchange of personal experiences that occur in the classroom.

"I believe it is very important to use as much personal communication as possible from the beginning of the course to make those connections," said Apitz. "After learning our students would not be traveling to Newport, I began to engage with my students more via phone and Zoom meetings instead of email."

"Having 144 senior enlisted leaders together on one base for three weeks is an experience that is often once-in-a-lifetime and nearly impossible to replicate virtually," said Avin. "The SEA staff has done an amazing job hand-selecting the most impactful topics normally discussed during the IR portion of the course, and developed unique and interactive ways to deliver the content clearly and with the most interaction as possible."

Santos goes on to say there is no comparison for IR education, and while she is able to replicate some experiences, the in-depth interaction and ability to work out problems in person is priceless.

"The conversations, experiences, insight, and working with different platforms is something virtual learning just cannot replace," said Santos. "I do feel it is important that we continue to educate students during this time because we can still provide value and be impactful."

"As a foreign exchange military facilitator, I think it is important to continue to educate leaders because their job is to protect the nation’s citizens and its territories from threats," said Apitz. "If the SEA is not able to support the warfighter, the warfighter cannot support their mission."

Avin believes the SEA is an integral part of enlisted leader development and the staff will continue to operate as the adaptive and agile team the fleet needs.

"The major benefit to this style of training is that senior enlisted leaders still receive the education they deserve and that our Navy needs of them while maintaining the safety of our students, our staff and their families," said Avin. "Although not physically together, the SEA staff continues to do an outstanding job developing the right training, at the right place, at the right time. For now, the right place is from their homes or commands as we navigate the challenges of COVID-19."

The SEA is a 10-week leadership development program for active and reserve senior enlisted leaders from the U.S. Navy, Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and National Guard, as well as from our international service partners, for increased leadership and career advancement. SEA focuses on management, leadership, national security and physical fitness.

Connecticut Media Group