Top of the Schoolhouse – “Change is Good”

1SG Eric W. Pelkey – US Army School of Aviation Medicine

                Change is good! It limits complacency and breeds innovation within organizations. The “status quo” is not always the best answer when faced with stressful transitions or global transformations. Despite continuous change, “the Army goes rolling along.” The leadership at the School of Army Aviation Medicine (SAAM) echoes those words as the organization continues to adapt and address new obstacles.  The Fort Rucker based school has seen its fair share of difficulties in recent months but always seems to find its footing. The global pandemic did not stop the mission but resulted in modification of practices. Currently, the school is undergoing another big period of transition. Between personnel changeover and the evolution of COVID-19 response, SAAM is busy overhauling internal processes. 

In June 2021, SAAM said goodbye to their Dean, COL Steven Gaydos and their 1SG, MSG Branden Coughlin. COL William Porter and 1SG Eric Pelkey has assumed the mantle of leadership within the organization. The previous Command Team set a high-performance standard to which the aeromedical community greatly benefited. They left behind an intimidating void but the new team is ready to accept any challenge. SAAM additionally said farewell to two longtime instructors and welcomed in three new team members. The Graduate Medical Education (GME) Program began training eight new students and graduated six Aerospace and Occupational Medicine Resident-Qualified Doctors. These providers will primarily be assuming the role of BN, BDE, or MTF Flight Surgeons. Their expertise will be instrumental in the maintenance of Aviation Medicine Programs across the Army.  

            The transition to virtual learning during the pandemic was tough but ultimately beneficial.  SAAM cadre adapted and learned new presentation techniques suited to a virtual learning environment (VLE). With the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccination, the schoolhouse began transitioning back to more traditional face-to-face learning. Of course, they are now more prepared to utilize other teaching methods if needed. Initial Entry Rotary Wing – Common Core officers were the first group of students to return to in person learning. This affords the soon to be aviators the ability to participate in necessary hands-on spatial disorientation and hypoxia practical exercises. All other SAAM courses have transitioned to a hybrid VLE. Essentially, fully vaccinated students will participate in resident training for the length of the course. Individuals who still require a restriction of movement (ROM) upon arrival to Fort Rucker will utilize a VLE until said ROM is complete. The final VLE MEDEVAC Pre-Command Course executes in June 2021. Twenty-seven future Commanders, form across all three components, will meet online to fulfill the requirement. The FY22 course will be in resident at Fort Rucker. A return to a post COVID-19 “normalcy” becomes one-step closer each day. However, SAAM is prepared to adjust for any future changes that may occur. DUSTOFF.

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