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Quarantine University: Airmen share knowledge via social media during coronavirus lockdown

Some airmen on lockdown because of the coronavirus are educating one another via social media.

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By JAMES BOLINGER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 16, 2020

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At an Air Force base in California famous for pushing the envelope, senior enlisted leaders have devised a social media method of keeping work-at-home airmen around the world connected and learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

Ian Eishen, the command chief master sergeant of the 412th Test Wing at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., conceived the idea along with, Master Sgt. Chad Hardesty and Tech. Sgt. Fabian Guzman.

“We built this group with the idea of crowdsourcing education across the Air Force,” Eishen said in an April 7 email to Stars and Stripes. “We have leaders at all levels with knowledge to give, and Airmen at all levels with time and a desire to learn but we needed a place that would allow these two groups to find each other.”

The group has more than 18,000 members and has hosted multiple video chats with enlisted leaders from across the Air Force. Topics discussed have included mental health, bullet writing for evaluations and emotional intelligence. All the videos created are available on the page.

The group’s decentralized nature makes it one of the best ideas to stem from the lockdown, said Tech. Sgt. Cam Kopec, the noncommissioned officer in charge of cyber systems support for the 18th Intelligence Squadron at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, in an email to Stars and Stripes on Monday.

“This is not something that was directed by the chief of staff of the Air Force or the command chief master sergeant of the Air Force,” he said. “This was born out of a desire to help others and better our force. We’re all in unfamiliar situations right now, and we don’t have all the specifics as to when we may return back to a sense of normalcy. Personal and professional development is one of the biggest things we can take from this ‘downtime.’ It’s amazing how the group is doing it.”

Kopec said he discovered Quarantine University through others in his unit already taking advantage of it.

“I attended one of the leadership workshops that was put on shortly after the quarantine started, promptly joined the Facebook group, and since then it has been an absolute trove of information,” he said.

Although many of the classes focus on improving leadership qualities, Kopec said there are webinars, training and meetups on a variety of topics. It’s fascinating to see how everyone bought in quickly and is focused on helping others, he said.

Quarantine University has hosted speakers from outside of the Air Force, too.

For example, on Wednesday, award-winning author Whitney Johnson, a frequent lecturer at Harvard Business School, spoke about her book: “Disrupt Yourself: Put the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work.”

Several of the live training sessions, such as “Hybrid Airmen” and “The Future of the Enlisted Force,” were attended by more than 9,000 people, Eishen said.

Hybrid airmen, a concept unveiled in 2018 by Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright, calls for creating service members able to take on multiple roles during a major conflict.

“In the future, especially against a near peer adversary, we will need hybrid airmen who have more skills than the ones they learned through their career field,” Eishen said. “The current COVID-19 situation is an excellent-use case to test this hypothesis."

Quarantine University allows airmen to choose their own adventure and focus own their development, he said.

“We have Airmen across the base who are training to augment security forces, command post, medical and other critical jobs,” he said. “We also have Airmen with varying backgrounds who are learning iterative design and fundamentals of prototyping who are now building robots to help disinfect rooms and various surfaces.”

The group’s success has hinged on the dynamic communication of social media platforms like Facebook, Zoom and Meetup, Eishen said, although the Defense Department recently directed all personnel to stop using Zoom for security reasons.

“Social media has been key to this project, and it would not have grown this fast without it. We launched and had 2,000 users within 24 hours,” he said. “It is easy for anyone to provide content, because we are able to live-stream from a smartphone.”

Those interested in checking out Quarantine University can find its Facebook page

bolinger.james@stripes.com
Twitter: @bolingerj2004

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