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By Joshua Cohen
Vermont National Guard Public Affairs
Operations at the Vermont National Guard’s 124th Regional Training Institute are gradually returning to the pre-COVID normal according to the Institute’s newly appointed commander, Col. William Wagner.
"It’s more complex than simply not having to wear a mask anymore," he said, pointing out the post pandemic reopening will require continual adaptation.
Wagner explained that post-COVID resources now have to be planned out and allocated well in advance. Due in part to the global pandemic, food contracts and vendors have increased in cost, complicating the contracting process.
During the pandemic, staffing was adjusted to maintain student engagement. “As a result of COVID we had to instruct the Basic Leader Course virtually," he said. "This prompted 2nd Battalion, 124th Regiment Modular Training Battalion to add an additional instructor to monitor questions presented digitally. As a result student size increased from 72 to 80.”
Wagner explained that as an agile learning organization successes from lessons learned while teaching in COVID times will be utilized.
“For instance, it may make sense to continue a virtual Basic Leader’s Course, offering the ability for expanding student attendance, therefore increasing the Army's readiness by providing exceptionally qualified junior NCOs to the Army arsenal by ‘Training the Army one Soldier at a Time.’”
Wagner said due to physical proximity and inability to physically distance, the temporary postponement of the Mountain Rifleman course was necessary during the pandemic. The Basic Military Mountaineering Course was also impacted, with class size reduced from 64 to 16, to ensure the safety of all students and instructors during COVID.
"I'd like to see the entire RTI back to achieving our original Army Program of Individual Training mission," Wagner said, explaining the Army Mountain Warfare School conducted courses at limited capacity during the peak of COVID for several months.
As COVID cases gradually reduced and mitigations were established, AMWS gradually began to have limited numbers of Soldiers, starting at 16 then increasing to 32, eventually returning to the normal class size of 64. By the end of Training Year 2022, the RTI will exceed its ARPRINT mission, Wagner said, noting the pandemic had no adverse impact on 3rd Battalion, 124th Information Operations.
As part of a return to normal operations, Wagner said experience gained by deployed RTI staff will be exploited as they re-integrate, while new talent will be sought for the cadre. “It will require cadre flexibility and willingness to adapt, already demonstrated by the Regiment’s success during COVID.”
Wagner said he intends to build RTI 'brand recognition' back up after the long COVID interruption. "While we're still nationally known for Army Mountain Warfare School and Information Operations, we need to regain mind space across the reserve component. We need to be every Quota Source Manager's first thought for our course offerings."
He added that preparation and implementation has begun with building projects and installation of special turf that provides BLC the capability to conduct the Army Combat Fitness Test in Quarter 1 of Training Year 2022.
Wagner said he has a personal connection with the RTI’s mission, “because of the vast number of Soldiers we've trained, and the influence we have in shaping future leaders, not just students who've come through our courses, but also those serving as cadre, it can be tremendously motivating to see the positive influence we can have on our students, and that makes us want to be all the more successful."
Wagner assumed command of the 124th Regimental Training Institute in March of 2021 after serving 18 months in direct support to U.S. Cyber Command and prior to that within the communications directorate for the Vermont Army National Guard. He is a 2019 graduate of the Army War College, a 2011 graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College and graduate of the Military Police Officer Basic Course, the Infantry Officer Advanced Course, and the Signal Captain’s Career Course.