Rear Adm. Mike White, who took over Naval Education and Training Command in January, speaks with sailors aboard the cruiser Princeton in April 2013 as part of his old job as commander of Carrier Strike Group 11. (MC2 Jason Behnke/Navy)
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PENSACOLA, FLA. — Whether training recruits, operating schoolhouses or overseeing the force’s general military training, Naval Education and Training Command runs sailor education and development from cradle to grave.
The new head of NETC says his main focus is finding ways to bring advanced training to the fleet — those “C” schools critical to commands and sailors alike.
Sailors need Navy enlisted classifications, and commands need expertise — but with limited budgets, Rear Adm. Mike White is rethinking traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms and finding ways to leverage technology to keep sailors close to home, while giving them the skills they and their units need to advance and deploy.
White believes “A” schools should be shorter and more focused on a sailor’s first job, while “C” schools should be offered in fleet concentration areas to let sailors continue their training later in their careers — steps he foresees will increase sailor’s shots at getting advanced training.
White, who took over NETC in January, sat down with Navy Times on July 8 to talk about his plans for schools, tablets and more. Questions and answers have been edited for brevity.
Q. How have your priorities grown or changed in your first seven months?
A. I see my opportunity to break the mold that we’ve had in NETC for many years that I call “one school, one time.”
You came in the Navy to be a hull [technician] and you went to hull tech school and went off to the fleet to be one and that was it. But I think our systems have become so complex, and our schools so lengthy, [that] we need to make a change to truly produce a sailor who has the right training at the right time.
We train that person for a period of time and send them to the fleet to do that job. Once they garner some experience, there’s an injection of new training we give them.
Take a sonar technician, or a radar tech. Maybe we train him for six months to be an operator and he operates that piece of gear for a year. Then we give him more school that teaches him to maintain that gear.
So he’s familiar with it and has fleet experience, and now we train him further to specialize more in that gear. We would assume in a four-year initial tour that sailor would migrate from an operator to a maintainer or whatever progress we’d expect from his rating.
Q. “A” schools have always aimed to capture the whole rating upfront, so this is a fundamental change in philosophy. How do you get there?
A. So to deliver on that I need to bring the training to the sailor — ideally on his ship, but at least in his home port, because I can’t ask his [commanding officer], after a sailor has been there for a year, to give him back to me for additional training.
I’ve asked my team to look at how you logically separate that training, so that a sailor is effective and useful in his unit and at the same time, we break it up and deliver it to the sailor at the correct points in his tour.
Q. There’s been talk for years about more advanced training — “C” schools — in fleet concentration areas, but in a resource-challenged environment, how do you get there?
A. It’s a combination approach. One of the areas we’re very excited about is virtualization. And you have to go into this discussion knowing it’s not the solution for every training we do.
So the example I’ll give is, what if we can provide a desktop environment where a subject-matter instructor is on the opposite coast or maybe stateside while the sailor is in Japan or Rota? The sailor receives instruction on this desktop.
You have to take the leap of faith that it’s not just looking at a computer screen and doing training. You are are engaged in a classroom environment with an instructor who is watching you manipulate a console that’s replicated on your desktop.
As you manipulate this console, it reacts as if you are operating the actual gear on your ship — and the instructor is watching you do that just as if he was watching you manipulate that piece of gear over your shoulder.
We are piloting and working on some technologies that would allow us to distribute that training without having to buy a schoolhouse and instructors and everything that comes with it.
Q. Where are you piloting it?
A. We are just starting it out at the Fleet [Anti-Submarine Warfare] Training Center in San Diego, using instructors back in Dahlgren and Norfolk.
It’s brand new, and I’m excited about it. I’m sure there will be hiccups as we learn more about it. But it’s virtualized classroom instruction and you have to realize that this isn’t just a video teleconference.
They’re not watching the instructor on a TV. They’re on a [computer] desktop screen or monitor and they are seeing the instructors work in a classroom environment, but then at the same time they can manipulate a piece of gear. And the instructor watches them doing that, and the simulation reacts to what they’re doing and they learn from that.
In this pilot, we’ll have the group in the virtualized instruction and we’ll have another doing the training as they always have with everyone in the same classroom. We’re going to follow this training along and see if it’s effective.
Q. What’s the limit of this training — where can you use it and where can’t you?
A. You can see that in training on a complex piece of electronic gear, this can be effective, but if you’re training a hull tech to weld, you can’t really do that in a virtual world and we will look to develop that kind of training in other ways, in cooperation with [shore maintenance facilities] or possibly the mobile training team idea.
Ideally, if you are training to deploy, a mobile training team comes to your ship and touches the gear there, and that’s more of where we’re at now in partnership with the [afloat training groups].
Q. What levels of training will this work for?
A. It’s kind of important to realize this is kind of specific to the “C” school level. The “A” school is very foundational to what we do, and I think that needs to stay in a brick-and-mortar environment. These are brand-new sailors, and sailorization is also a part of the “A” school training, and that has to continue.
Q. If the idea isn’t to build new schools, only to facilitate training through technology — what’s your plan and time frame to get this going?
A. We’re approaching it through multiple paths. In the immediate future, we are on a plan to upgrade our electronic classrooms throughout all the fleet concentration areas. If this technology presents itself, we have the ability for a sailor to stay in his home port [and] go to one of these electronic classrooms that we’re hoping to develop.
In the short term, we’ll continue to replicate existing classes in fleet concentration areas.
For example, we’ll pilot a “C” school here at [Naval Aviation Technical Training Center] having to do with the [FA-18G] Growler and then pump it out to the fleet at [Naval Air Stations] Oceana and LeMoore. We can do this kind of thing by validating the class and qualifying instructors in those areas.
Q. How about your cadre of instructors — a few years ago NETC boosted the number of instructors with a move back toward more instructor-led training. Do you see more instructor plus-ups?
A. We have had tremendous support from leadership over the past several years to rebuild the instructor cadre. So today, we would tell you our instruction is about 15 percent computer-based and 85 percent instructor-led.
That’s our formula. We use computer-based [instruction] to reinforce basic lessons and the instructor to put it all together not only in physical instruction, but in hands-on training.
We have 5,800 dedicated instructor billets. If you look at our workforce as whole with civilian instructors and contractors as well, it’s close to 8,000. Realistically, I don’t see growth. As we’re in an era of zero growth, an instructor billet given to me is a loss elsewhere.
Q. What impact will Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens’ effort to get tablets into sailors’ hands have on NETC training?
A. It’s going to take years, but the potential is amazing. Some people call this an electronic professional support system — EPSS.
Let me build you a picture of how I see this. You have this device and on it, you have your manuals, your instruction — your checklist, if you will.
Also, you could have 3-D manipulated images. So you could be heading to work on a piece of gear and bring up your picture and manipulate it, move it around and look at it from different angles. Then there’s maybe a video of the procedure you’re about to do.
The potential is just amazing. But lots of things have to come into play to make this a reality.■