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Distance education would give reservists training, resources and mentorship - all through their laptops

Feb. 1, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
MATSG-42 heads to the field to hone grunt skills
The Marines of MATSG-42 execute a simulated casualty evacuation during a drill weekend at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., in spring of 2012. (Marines Corps)
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Marine reservists may soon be able to knock out some of their professional military education requirements, get help with their taxes, access family readiness and deployment health resources, and even participate in mentoring sessions with other Marines,

Marine reservists may soon be able to knock out some of their professional military education requirements, get help with their taxes, access family readiness and deployment health resources, and even participate in mentoring sessions with other Marines,

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Marine reservists may soon be able to knock out some of their professional military education requirements, get help with their taxes, access family readiness and deployment health resources, and even participate in mentoring sessions with other Marines, all with just a laptop and a webcam.

Marine officials are looking for ways to deliver training and resources to Marines and their families via distance education, said Lt. Col. Nina D’Amato, a reservist at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., who is spearheading that research. The long-distance options are especially attractive to reserve Marines, who tend to be decentralized and spend just a weekend a month drilling together, she added.

It’s the desire to maximize the effectiveness of that brief time together that’s driving the change, said Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, commander of Marine Forces Reserve in New Orleans. If reservists can get some of the required annual training courses out of the way while they are at home, they’ll get more out of their weekends on station.

“With the active component, there’s lots of time, lots of white space on the calendar for them to do things. Reserve time is a little by tighter,” he told Marine Corps Times in December. “We want to make sure whatever [we’re] requiring a reserve component to do two days a month is meaningful and is aimed toward mission accomplishment.”

D’Amato said initial operating capability for the initiative is expected in late spring or early summer, but the technology to make successful distance learning programs already exists. As an example, she pointed to a program called Illuminate, which she described as “Skype on steroids.” The challenge, she said, is to make courses sufficiently interactive, engaging and appealing to convince Marines to give them a shot.

“It’s got to be a two-way exchange,” she said. “I think we’ve all sat through a few video trainings; they lose people pretty quick.”

The courses or training programs may have a social media aspect to keep participants interested and allow for more collaboration, D’Amato said.

“Every Marine I know has a connection to the Internet,” she said. “All it really is, is getting them excited about participating. I think there are lots of questions that they would like answered.”

The challenge of finding a way for Marines to take time, outside of drilling weekends, to complete distance training requirements is manageable, D’Amato said. Many units have flexible drilling schedules, and commanders can shift things around to allow Marines to use the technology without requiring that they devote more time to their reserve duties.

Successful long-distance mentoring may become even more essential for the Reserve, Mills said. Servicewide belt-tightening has led to reductions in the travel budgets that allow Reserve commanders to visit their units.

“It may be that the person you want to be mentored by is a commander at Camp Pendleton, and you’re a grunt in Ohio,” D’Amato said. “Technology can bridge that gap.”

D’Amato said the distance mentoring tool has limitations; it will work best if mentors and their protégés have the opportunity to meet in person from time to time to augment their long-distance interactions.

The mentoring element may also have the greatest appeal for young Marines.

“Marines love to mentor people,” she said. “Even young sergeants, if they have an opportunity to mentor a lance corporal or corporal, they’ll do it.”■

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