July 16, 1998

Officer Enhances Guard Education through Civilian Employer

by Sgt. Dee Ortiz
29th Infantry Division Public Affairs

FORT PICKETT -- Although Capt. George Batsakis is the assistant S-3 Air, 116th Infantry, he is also playing another major role in the Army National Guard through his civilian job. The 29th Division officer works as a program manager at Electron ic Data Systems, the company that has a contract with National Guard Bureau to set up a distance learning system.

"Distance learning in a classic sense can be anything from correspondence courses to technical tapes -- anything that brings training to the soldiers," Batsakis said. But the National Guard Bureau is taking that ability a step further through the Distance Training Technologies Project.

The NGB has led the nation in fielding the technology for a bandwidth large enough to carry multi-media data including video, voice, sound, etc., to and from the site simultaneously. EDS has been a part of this effort for about three years or so, accor ding to Batsakis.

The first phases of this program consisted of creating a nationwide network to all National Guard armories through electronic technology. The Asynchronous Transfer Mode network is now in 54 states and territories. This allows the soldier to participat e in full motion video teleconferencing.

Virginia was one of four initial pilot states for the system, according to Lt. Col. Ernest A. Bachman, the Virginia point of contact for Distance Learning and the deputy chief of staff for the Virginia Army National Guard. Two sites were initially set up in Virginia -- at the Blackstone Armory and in Virginia Beach.

This system allows for training through several different means:

  • participation in live interactive training over the Internet
  • download pre-packaged training courses from the Internet
  • use a CD-ROM
  • view VHS video tapes on the computer screen
  • take part in live video tele-training
  • call-up information and courses from the national repository of courses that are available on demand.

The center, based at the Blackstone Armory, is in the process of being moved to the Regional Training Institute at Fort Pickett. A major upgrade of the existing system will be conducted to coincide with the move, according to Bachman. All new state-of-the-art computers will be put into the new center as well as a voice-activated video camera for the video tele-training system.

"Since this (at the Blackstone Armory) was one of the first centers put in, itís due for an upgrade," said Bachman.

Other Virginia classrooms will be installed in Manassas, Roanoke and Sandston.

Eventually, the NGB wants to make sure that access to Distance Learning Classrooms reaches within a 50-mile radius of every soldier in the National Guard, said Batsakis.

"The National Guard is establishing 500 Distance Learning Classrooms that combine video conferencing with computer technology," Batsakis explained. These classrooms would provide for soldiers to convert job specialties to fit in with the chan ging force structure without leaving home.

Because these classrooms will be used by soldiers mainly on weekends, evenings and during the summer, National Guard leadership will consider allowing local communities to use the classrooms during down-time, Batsakis said. This would help the Guard pa y for the telecommunications costs.

"Shared users help to spread the costs of running the system," he said. The shared usage gives the Guard the potential to get back into the community by bringing the community into the armory.