JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —
Overcoming challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, or COVID-19, the U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence, or MEDCoE, at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston has graduated its first class from a new paramedic training program that started in January.
Service members completed the requirements for graduation from the Combat Paramedic Program, or CPP, a 30-week pilot course that teaches and trains students who want to become Army flight paramedics in more than 100 skills and competencies they will utilize in various operational and combat situations.
The CPP combines aspects of the previously contracted paramedic program and the former Expeditionary Combat Medic Program, the advanced combat medic training pilot course that started in 2017.
Maj. Chris Gonzalez, MEDCoE CPP program director and instructor, said students and instructors in the CPP course faced many challenges that were brought about because of COVID-19. He said both students and instructors met the challenges head on by being flexible to changes that were made to ensure their health and safety, including going to a virtual learning platform in March, during the third month of the course.
“Exceptionally,” said Gonzalez about how students and instructors adapted to the changes that were brought about in the course.
"I give a great deal of credit to both the students and the instructors for their ability to remain flexible, patient and understanding with the situation and realizing that a lot of these events that are occurring are entirely out of our control," he said. "They were able to focus on what is within our ability to control and what was within our decision space.”
Gonzalez said instructors had about a week to come up with a plan when the decision was made to go to a virtual learning platform for classroom instruction.
The plan CPP instructors implemented for students included asynchronous learning, which includes a posting board and recorded lectures from instructors, and synchronous learning, which includes virtual meeting platforms that support live instruction.
Gonzalez said his team of 21 course instructors initiated modified teaching methods in a short amount of time, which worked for the students and also kept the basic curriculum of the course intact.
“To my team’s credit, they developed a lot of methods for ensuring students were understanding the material,” Gonzalez said. “I think early on they learned a lot of lessons on what worked and what didn’t work, and what was effective and not so effective. They were able to rapidly implement changes to ensure students were receiving the most out of their education, and we were able to most effectively validate their learning.”
For training activities in which in-person instruction was necessary, Gonzalez said precautions were taken to flatten the coronavirus curve, including wearing of masks and gloves for both students and instructors, maintaining social distancing, and reducing proximity to those students and instructors directly involved in each skill.
In addition, training equipment was wiped down between uses.
The same health and safety precautions were also taken during the course’s field training exercises at JBSA-Camp Bullis, which included everything from tactical combat casualty care to disease non-battle injury care to prolonged care scenarios.
The field training at JBSA-Camp Bullis takes 10 days, with students sleeping in the field. Gonzalez said to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, students were spread out in their living spaces to maintain proper physical distancing.
The graduation ceremony for the first class of CPP students, known as Class 500, was scheduled for Aug. 17, but was canceled after Maj. Gen. Dennis LeMaster, MEDCoE commanding general, issued an order prohibiting in-person graduations of more than 10 personnel because of the pandemic.
Graduating students still received their certificates of completion and will out-process Aug. 17-18.
Gonzalez said what the students experienced in CPP, especially with the changes they had to adapt to, will prepare them for the next levels of critical care flight paramedic training and for what they will encounter as Army paramedics.
“The expectation is that Army Soldiers are able to deal with adversity and still continue to press forward to achieve our objectives,” he said. “Their successful graduation attests to their ability to navigate challenges and achieve those outcomes.”
Graduates of the CPP course have an additional 12 weeks of training, eight at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston in a critical care paramedic course and four at Fort Rucker, Alabama, in aviation crewmember training. Upon successful completion of the entire program, they will become Army paramedics and will go on to their duty assignments.
The second CPP class, Class 501, started March 31 and is expected to be completed by Oct. 30. The third group of CPP students, Class 502, started Aug. 10.
Gonzalez said he and the rest of the instructors will continue to make improvements in how they conduct the CPP course based on feedback they have received from students.
“During Class 500, our first class, we learned a lot,” he said. “We started to make adjustments already for Class 501 to improve their experience. Using feedback from both Class 500 and Class 501, we’re making adjustments for Class 502 to make it even better. We’re in this process of continual improvement to ensure our students are getting the most benefit from their education.”