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Air advisors host first virtual training with Panama partners amid COVID-19

Capt. Matthew Schnarrs, 571st Mobility Support Advisory Squadron course facilitator, observes as Tech. Sgt. Larry Diaz, 571st MSAS instructor, gives a briefing on command and control operations during a virtual engagement with the National Aeronaval Service of Panama Sept. 1, 2020, at Travis Air Force Base in California. The two-week engagement is their first time using a virtual medium to train a partner nation and consists of an introductory command and control course and a multi-topic airfield operations course. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Liliana Moreno)

Capt. Matthew Schnarrs, 571st Mobility Support Advisory Squadron course facilitator, observes as Tech. Sgt. Larry Diaz, 571st MSAS instructor, gives a briefing on command and control operations during a virtual engagement with the National Aeronaval Service of Panama Sept. 1, 2020, at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. The two-week engagement is the first time 571st MSAS used a virtual medium to train a partner nation, and consists of an introductory command and control course and a multi-topic airfield operations course. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Liliana Moreno)

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. (AFNS) -- Air advisors with the 571st Mobility Support Advisory Squadron are providing training for the first time using a virtual medium to members of the National Aeronaval Service of Panama, also known as SENAN, Aug. 31 through Sept. 11.

This new format of instruction is vastly different from anything the MSAS has done before as their mission is typically conducted in a partner nation.

“Virtual engagement with the SENAN through the Zoom platform supporting the advising mission is nothing like any position I have held in the past,” said Tech. Sgt. Samantha Miller, 571st Mobility Support Advisory Squadron air advisor. “It takes the best of command post training and makes it mobile in a way that we have never seen before.”

Air advisors established the new training and certification process with inputs from Headquarters Air Force, Air Mobility Command, Inter-American Air Forces Academy, 818th MSAS and members of the State Partnership Program.

Air advisors received virtual training certifications prior to this advising engagement that included two weeks of significant practice, research and training to ensure they were presenting a professional image and complying with industry standards.

“The team has had to overcome hurdles such as how to handle virtual interpretation, how to meet Congressional Leahy (law) vetting requirements virtually, and how to be engaging instructors while coping with the challenge of only having a camera, microphone and screen to engage their audience,” said Capt. Reuben Luoma-Overstreet, 571st MSAS mission commander.

The training the air advisors are providing to their Panamanian partners consists of an introductory command and control course and a multi-topic airfield operations course. This training will serve as the framework for future Building Partner Capacity missions within the country.

“This training helps us build an enduring relationship with the SENAN by institutionalizing a building-blocks approach to our Building Partner Capacity mission,” Luoma-Overstreet said. “Not only will this provide training that will help improve and standardize SENAN operations and practices in both the C2 and airfield operations realms, but it will also boost the effectiveness of future training events that might typically have been more sporadic.”

The command and control course is one week long, and the airfield operations course is two weeks long. The courses cover 16 lessons between five instructors for 26 students, delivered in two languages.

While virtual engagements will not replace in-person advising, they will provide a complementary method of meeting mission requirements during challenging times.

“Giving Panama quality training, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, shows that U.S. Air Force air advisors can rise to any occasion,” Miller said. “The MSAS is here to advise, and we make that happen, even in the age of social distancing.”

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