AFCEC certifies evaluators despite COVID-19 restrictions

A virtual training partnership between the Air Force Civil Engineer Center‘s Airfield Pavement Evaluations team and the Air Force Institute of Technology continues to ensure mission-critical certification of airfield pavement evaluators in the age of COVID-19.

Before COVID-19, students would travel to Tyndall AFB for the two-week Contingency Airfield Pavement Evaluation, or CAPE, training course. CAPE training was hosted every other month, with each course accommodating up to 18 students, but COVID-19 brought the course to a stop in early 2020.

“We had a backlog of certification requests, and with certifications only valid for three years, we knew we needed to find a solution,” said Dick Smith, CAPE course instructor. “Keeping our airfields viable and structurally capable of accepting inbound aircrafts is mission critical.”

Due to the complexity of evaluation and variables in the construction of airfields, major command engineers concluded that all evaluators should be centrally trained and qualified through AFCEC. Certified pavement evaluators across the Department of Defense deploy to installations enterprise-wide to ensure airfields can safely support flying operations.

Several units across the military have a requirement to maintain a specific number of certified personnel, who regularly inspect more than 200 airfields to ensure they remain passable and properly maintained. Course students include members from not only AFCEC’s Airfield Pavement Evaluation team, but also contingency response groups, Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers squadrons, or RED HORSE, special tactics squadrons, Marine Corps and Air Force Central Command’s pavement team, who maintain a six-month deployment rotation to carry out airfield pavement evaluations across their areas of responsibility.

By providing a virtual CAPE course, Smith said they will alleviate the shortage of evaluators and get the mission back on track with regularly scheduled training going forward.

In late September, Capt. Ben Fonte, pavements instructor from AFIT’s Civil Engineer School, began conducting videography to capture Smith’s expertise in teaching lessons for the coursework. They will soon transition all of the information, lessons, exams and file sharing to build the interactive learning environment for the course. The first virtual course is tentatively planned to launch in January 2021. Before that time, the course will be offered once a month until the backlog is resolved.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to not only take this course to prepare for my AFCENT pavement team deployment, but also to contribute to CAPE readiness across the Department of Defense,” Fonte said.

AFIT and AFCEC have joined forces on a number of past projects. However, Fonte pointed out, this is the first time AFIT has been able to assist Airfield Pavement Evaluations from an educational standpoint.

“Although COVID(-19) has made many aspects of our mission more difficult, it has also created opportunities to be innovative in ways we might not have otherwise considered,” said Maj. Kyle Maeger, Airfield Pavement Evaluations branch chief. “Moving forward with our CAPE course virtually gives us flexibility in how and when we can deliver this training to the field in the future.”

Previously, the CAPE training provided one week of in-class instruction and one week of field work that required a collected data-driven report. The virtual course is being modified to include one week of video instruction, exams and testing in a virtual classroom environment, followed by a final data-driven report for which the field data will be provided by the instructor. Certification is granted to students who display an accurate understanding of the data provided in their final report.

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