Training: a different way to think and act during the Pandemic

By Nicola Carrera

From "The CoESPU MAGAZINE" no. 1 - 2021

Section: "Covid-19: Impact on Training and Peace Operations", page 18

DOI Code: 10.32048/Coespumagazine1.21.1

For the moment, we are living in challenging times, and we are writing history daily by way of our actions.  It will be possible to review current events in the near future, when, in the following twenty or thirty years, we will have the opportunity to look back and critically reassess what has happened.


Then we will be able to analyze how we have responded in various arenas; politically, and economically - in terms of welfare and social care, within industry - in terms of our research and development response, instances of emergency management, and so on and so forth for all the countless areas that make up society and the wider puzzle of our existence on Earth. Clearly, this assumption is valid and applicable in all aspects of life lived in the community.


As a military & police training expert, I have made comparisons between the reading and analysis of the job I know well, and my following of what has happened and is happening around the world. Thanks to the large network of contacts I have cultivated and maintained over the years, I have continued to be able to witness, even from a distance, how real operations are carried out in various areas of implementation around the world (e.g. Africa, Middle East, North Europe).  Nevertheless, and in light of this, training of the Forces is an on-going and mitigating requirement that needs to be implemented.


I would like to say immediately that despite the initial halt in operations, we have slowly resumed supply by organizing a turnover schedule. These operations were subject to downsizing and had to receive a technical extension in order for some operators to avoid the simultaneous repatriation of a large number of people.  All this was in order to ensure the functionality of the missions.  Consequently, from March 2020 to March 2021, it has been possible to test and set up technical and health procedures to ensure a safe and secure environment both at home and at the destination. Has everything always gone smoothly? No! Have there been any unforeseen events in the inbound/outbound operations? Yes, few, but the ability to react and adapt to overcome the difficulties was excellent - worthy of an organized system and of an efficient and effective military instrument of a modern and advanced country.


Here I turn to a few examples. The European missions in Africa reacted well by giving non-essential personnel the opportunity to return home in the first instance through the innovation and promotion of teleworking. Even today, a large proportion of non-essential staff in European international missions work from home, from their home countries, contributing to the pursuit of objectives. This would have been inconceivable before 2019. Only essential personnel have continued to work in-situ by way of following and establishing, together with assistance from medical advisors, all the safety procedures necessary to avoid contagion. Let us also acknowledge that the European Union reacted well by making a virtue of necessity. The populations in those countries in difficulty, due to precarious or non-existent health systems, were helped by intervening support administered through close and constant cooperation that was able to share our basic lessons learned (of respiratory protection, sanitizing hands, spacing, etc.). This resulted in a great deal of masks and sanitizing liquid arriving in those countries weakened by wars, famine, and disease.

In my opinion the logic behind European policy has been to accept that [1][2]: COVID-19 affects us all. It does not care who we are, or where we are:  everyone is at risk. As long as COVID-19 exists somewhere in the world, no one is safe. All over the world people are losing sources of income and finding themselves unable to provide for themselves and their families. The pandemic is especially worrying for partner countries outside the EU with fragile healthcare systems and economies.


Team Europe” has stepped up delivery of its COVID-19 recovery package and future work with partner countries. The European Union and its Member States, acting together as “Team Europe”, are taking comprehensive and decisive action to tackle the destructive impact of COVID-19:


  • They are adapting priorities and programs with partner countries to address the crisis.
  • They are supporting efforts to halt the spread of COVID-19 and helping countries to strengthen their healthcare, water and sanitation systems.
  • They are also supporting the development of fast and equitable access to safe, quality, effective and affordable tests, treatments and vaccines against coronavirus.
  • They have put in place regional approaches tailored to meet the diverse needs of the different areas of the world. 
  • The action and solutions they implement today must also help build back better.

In light of these efforts, it can be seen that Team Europe is promoting an equitable, sustainable and inclusive recovery.


Team Europe’s emergency response includes[3]:

  • Provision of immediate support to the Response Plans of international organizations;
  • Provision of immediate humanitarian support in affected countries, particularly health, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH[4]) and logistics;
  • Increased production in Europe of personal protective equipment and medical devices to meet urgent needs in Europe and in partner countries;
  • Organizing the supply of in-kind assistance to affected countries through the Union Civil Protection Mechanism[5];
  • Guaranteed liquidity provisions to local banks via International Financial Institutions and European Development Finance Institutions[6], supported by the European Fund for Sustainable Development[7];
  • The support of global efforts to provide sufficient supply of essential goods, food and water, measures to combat export restrictions and ensure supply chains remain intact, notably for essential medical supplies and pharmaceuticals.

Taking into account the above, the question of sufficient training remains. Let us suppose that the scope of training is very broad and much depends on the level, subject matter and objectives. Tactical training has clearly suffered the most from the new limitations.  Consider public order training; which inevitably moves modularly and is deployed in sections, platoons and teams. Calculating the precautions required to contain the transmission of the Covid 19 infection is imperative.  Risk assessment regarding the suitability of PPE (masks) to mitigate particular environmental conditions immediately highlights the difficulty of working safely over a prolonged period of time. Public order is one example of a difficult environment with extensive safety concerns, but in terms of training for police operations, there are many other critical sectors that have slowed down conventional progression in the last period.  Examples include convoy escort, tactical progression, evacuation of international organizations’ facilities, intervention in prisons, management of a refugee camp, and more.


It was easier to adapt theoretical courses such as logistics, community policing and basic intelligence, professional ethics, human resources, information technology, crisis management and others. For these courses, a good remote connection with accredited client stations was able to respond well to the training needs. I would remind you that in Africa, the expansion of 4G has now enabled most people to access and connect to the world wide web, offering the services and benefits of the internet.


Another exceptional case of training during the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, I discovered through some agencies/foundations linked to Universities and/or the United Nations which, committed to priority and fundamental concerns, soon reorganized themselves.  They managed this by exploiting the publications, documents and activities carried out by collecting the material and publishing it in PODCASTs created ad hoc. This was a fantastic idea that has beneficently allowed them to continue maintaining the thread created in the previous decade with their stakeholders and followers.


To conclude, I would like to share a thought on the new world in which we find ourselves living because of this pandemic.  A world of isolation with little social interaction that is changing people so much, and with effects that are not always positive. The pandemic has saved us a great amount of money and quantity of pollution on the one hand, but on the other, it has deprived us of the pleasure of struggling together side-by-side and working as a team, hands-on, striving shoulder to shoulder to create that perfect alchemy for producing brilliant and innovative ideas. As an expert trainer I hope, as soon as it is possible, thanks to the vaccinations, to return to having human face-to-face contact and practical dissemination of knowledge and skills, and without over-excessive use of technology and distance learning. Training is a broader concept than the mere transmission of knowledge, and living in the simultaneous reality of the classroom or training camps certainly provides that added value of experience which is otherwise unattainable by other technological means.



                                                                           Capt. Nicola Carrera