Common Army Phase Training During COVID

Above: 28295 OCdt Lisa D’Amico and her section during their BMOQ-L course.

Editor’s Note: The French version of this article will follow in the next edition of eVeritas. / Note de l’éditrice: La version française de cet article suivra dans la prochaine édition d’eVeritas.

Article by 28560 OCdt (IV) Bennett Dickson

This past summer, two serials-worth of soldiers, the majority of which were RMC Officer Cadets, ventured out to the Infantry School at CFB Gagetown, New Brunswick, to complete their BMOQ-L qualifications. While the course is required for all Army officers in the Canadian Forces, this year added a layer of uncertainty given the COVID restrictions.

I had the pleasure of speaking with 28295 Officer Cadet Lisa D’Amico and was able to get a better understanding of what the course was like given the difficulties of training in the age of COVID-19.

She started by explaining how nervous and uncertain everyone was about the course and how it would be run: “When we all left RMC in April, we were under the impression that no one was going on course, so the shock among RMC Cadets being sent on course is not hard to imagine.” Over the course of their 14-day period of isolation before the course started, they filled out a lot of paperwork, touched up on battle procedure, and stayed in shape as best they could.

When the actual course started, the effects of COVID seemed to shine. Staff had to wear masks, the two platoons were isolated from each other (meaning members could only mingle with people in their own platoon), and no one was allowed on or off the base. As time went on, however, the Cadets were able to do small trips off-base to places like the Canex and McDonalds, and order food to the shacks. The caveat to this was they needed to respect all social distancing rules and wear a mask whenever possible. This, however, didn’t take away from the teaching points of BMOQ-L.

OCdt D’Amico went on to explain that, despite the restrictions that come with COVID, they were all still able to learn the essential teaching points and find ways to enjoy the course. As typically expected, they learned how to use the various weapons available to the Army, navigate using the always-reliable map and compass, and become familiar with working in the field in a real combat environment. This included recce’s, platoon-wide defensive, and section attacks.

When I asked her whether or not COVID changed how much she took away from the course, she didn’t think it had much of a positive impact. “The course itself was shortened by two weeks (it ran for 8 weeks as opposed to the normal 10), forcing the staff to adjust and condense as much information as possible. There were obvious difficulties with this, and while it may not have been noticed at the time, this caused a bit of a mental strain for everyone.”

She emphasized, however, that the course still taught her things that she knows she’ll need as a future Army officer. And, if anything, the condensed course taught them vital time management skills that will be extremely useful in future endeavours.

One final note she wanted to emphasize is that the course was extremely different for everyone. Some people found it more stressful due to COVID, some found the isolation to be peaceful, for example, while others seemed to barely notice anything was different at all. If the Infantry School can guarantee one thing, it is that everyone who passes through its doors will learn something that they didn’t know before; whether that be intellectually, or mentally. The course is designed to push people’s limits and help them become proficient in their future trades.

COVID definitely changed things for those “fortunate” enough to spend a few weeks in Gagetown’s swamps, but it by no means made the course “easier” or “harder”. As far as we’re concerned as future Army officers, the sporadicness of the whole COVID situation proves that we need to remain ready and keep our heads constantly on a swivel; things that we could have never predicted can come up out of nowhere and change everything.