NOTE: The following are the prepared remarks of Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, for the Veterans Day observation at Quantico National Cemetery:
Good morning ladies and gentlemen! Thank you so much for the introduction and for the opportunity to commemorate this important day. I have to specifically call out my good friend and fellow Hokie, Colonel Rich Anderson, the Chairman of the Potomac Region Veterans Council, for inviting me today.
It is so important that we pause each year to recognize our veterans, past and present. Men and women of the armed forces have secured the way of life we enjoy today, and that same service, sacrifice, courage and commitment is being demonstrated around the world by Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Coast Guardsmen who put themselves in harms way to defend the freedoms that are so important to all of us.
Our ceremony today was coordinated by the the Potomac Region Veterans Council, and we owe them a big thanks for this event as well as the Memorial Day event held here each year. For more than 40 years, the PRVC has been coordinating activities for veteran service organizations and their members with the goal of serving the larger population of 200,000 veterans in Northern Virginia. We are so fortunate to have them working along with the American Legion, the VFW and other organizations who provide much needed support and services for our veterans.
I am deeply honored to be here today on the hallowed ground of the Quantico National Cemetery. Since it was dedicated in 1983, the more than 700 acres here have become the final resting place for all members of the Armed Forces. Notable burials include Captain Frederick C. Branch, the first African-American officer of the Marine Corps; Hector A. Cafferata Jr., recipient of the Medal of Honor for actions at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War; Louis R. Lowery, a World War II Marine combat photographer, took the picture of the first U.S. flag rising on top of Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi in 1945; and General Lewis W. Walt, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps from 1968–1971, interred with his wife Nancy, an Army Nurse during World War II. This wonderful national cemetery provides a fitting memorial to these great Americans, along with the 38,667 veterans interred or cremated here.
It is my great honor to serve as the 28th Adjutant General of Virginia, and to lead National Guard Soldiers and Airmen, nearly 9,000 strong along with with our state defense force and state and federal civilians, in protecting our commonwealth and country. The Virginia National Guard is a unique dual-status force with a federal mission to provide a combat reserve to fight our nation’s wars, and a state mission to respond to the call of the Governor in defense of the Commonwealth.
With this 101st Veteran’s day we’re closing out the 100th anniversary of WWI – the war that saw the creation of the modern National Guard as we know it today. During the war to end all wars, the US Army built, trained and deployed 64 divisions. Eighteen of these divisions were formed from units across the Republic integrating all of the states’ militias into the newly formed National Guard. That’s 255,000 Guardsmen, including our own 29th Infantry Division, headquartered out of Fort Belvoir.
Next on the way point of history, we’re deep into the 75th anniversary of WWII, and this past June untold thousands gathered at Bedford, Virginia and in France at Omaha Beach, to pay tribute to our forces who stormed the Beaches of Normandy. Bedford serves as a touch point for our Army in that this small Virginia town had the highest per capita loss of life during this conflict– all from A Company, 116th Infantry Regiment of the Virginia National Guard – or more simply known as “The Bedford Boys.” Because of this, Bedford was selected to be the site for our nation’s memorial to D-Day.
As a Virginian, as an American, these moments in history, this selfless fabric of our nation’s Armed Forces, its veterans, are something we can all be incredibly proud of.
Let’s fast forward to present day, accounting for the intervening 75 years the National Guard served as a vital part of our nation’s strategic reserve during the Korean and Vietnam wars. In the past 18 years, this strategic application has shifted tremendously. Our National Guard has been deliberately leveraged as a combat force for the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force deployed across the globe fighting our nation’s longest war.
Simultaneously, the men and women of the National Guard have assured steady and swift emergency response to the homeland, answering the call of the states’ Governors, and supporting civil authorities during both man-made and natural disasters. The National Guard today is comprised of 450,000 troops in 2,600 communities with approximately 30,000 deployed at any particular time.
We are the principal combat reserve of the US Army and US Air Force, comprising 20 percent of the entire joint force — providing strategic depth in support of combatant commands. This readiness requires the National Guard to be deployable, sustainable, and interoperable with our active components.
What does this pace of operations that look like for Virginians, serving both their Commonwealth and nation? More than 15,000 Soldiers and Airmen have been mobilized to support homeland security and global operations since 9/11, while more than 13,000 Soldiers, Airmen, and Virginia Defense Force personnel have been called upon for domestic response to Virginia and surrounding states.
I’ll shift from numbers to putting a face to our force. As in every conflict, it is the story of the individual service member that helps our nation connect with our military. And in our case, I want to highlight just three of our great warriors and how they serve both commonwealth and country in the Virginia National Guard.
Sgt. Monica Beltran was the first female in the Virginia National Guard to earn the Bronze Star, and she is our highest-decorated female soldier and the third highest-decorated female in the U.S. Army. On Oct. 26, 2005, she was serving as a 50-caliber machine gunner on a combat logistics patrol in Iraq and providing security for a convoy of equipment and 55 Soldiers and contractors.
When the convoy came under attack, she returned maximum suppressive fire while taking fire from small arms, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Despite suffering wounds to her left hand, she continued to return fire to ensure the convoy could clear out of the kill zone. At the age of 19, she had earned the Bronze Star for Valor and the Purple Heart.
Sgt. Beltran is a traditional Guard Soldier. Someone who balances Guard service, a civilian job and family. Ever humble, she doesn’t think of herself as a hero, and she gives credit to her fellow Soldiers while downplaying the role she played.
At an event recognizing outstanding service by women in Virginia, she credited two things for her being on the stage. First, she recognized the training and lessons learned in life from childhood to becoming a proud Soldier in the United States Army. The second was the bravery, courage, leadership and sacrifice of the Soldiers in her unit. She said without the entire patrol’s effort, she would not be here today.
It is amazing to think that someone who exhibits that level of coolness under fire, humility and loyalty to her fellow Soldiers normally puts on a uniform one weekend a month and 15 days a year. But Sgt. Beltran, like so many other men and women in the Virginia National Guard, brings the spirit of citizen service that dates back to 1607 when Capt. John Smith organized the colonists to defend the Jamestown Settlement. This same spirit is present and essential to the Guard’s role in our National Defense Strategy today, as an operational reserve.
While Sgt. Beltran represents our traditional Guard force, we also have remarkable performers in our full-time force. Approximately 10 to 15 percent of the Guard force is full time, helping maintain readiness for all of our formations. Nowhere is that more relevant than at Langley Air Force Base where the Virginia Air National Guard’s 192nd Wing maintains a total force initiative partnership with the 1st Fighter Wing to assure F-22 Raptor air dominance. Every day, active duty Air Force and Air National Guard personnel train and maintain together, and then deploy overseas to serve in combat together. In 2015 when the F-22 flew in combat for the first time, the Virginia Air National Guard was right there with their active duty counterparts in the fight.
Maj. Lawrence Dietrich, the Virginia Air National Guard’s 149th Fighter Squadron chief of weapons, was named the Air Force’s Fighter Instructor Pilot of the Year in 2017, and was the first F-22 Raptor pilot to receive this award. Not the Air National Guard instructor pilot of the year, but the top instructor pilot for the entire Air Force. The award recognizes an instructor pilot’s commitment, performance, leadership and aviation skills that are instrumental to mission success of their units, the US Air Force and the Department of Defense.
His commander described him as “the perfect example of what the entire Virginia Air National Guard brings to the fight, both in garrison and around the world, during combat operations.”
Like Sgt. Beltran, Maj. Dietrich is humble and credits those around him for his success. He said that he has been fortunate that throughout his entire Air Force career, he has been surrounded by great people and exceptional instructors who’ve looked out for him and guided him through his time in the Air Force. He said he didn’t really see the award as an individual award because every technique he ever learned on how to instruct he learned from someone else.
We are so fortunate to have such amazing talent like Maj. Dietrich in our full time Guard force, and together with traditional warriors like Sgt. Beltran, we have the most experienced and combat ready Guard formations in our nation’s history.
While I imagine everyone is familiar with the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard, there is also a third organization that is a vital part of our domestic response capabilities that you may not be as familiar with: The Virginia Defense Force. The VDF is one of 32 state guard organizations in the country, and they are the all-volunteer reserve to the Virginia National Guard and authorized by the Code of Virginia.
While many members of the VDF come from a military background, many also bring the experience from the civilian sector and first responder communities, and we integrate them into all of our domestic response operations.
Our senior noncommissioned officer in the VDF is Command Sgt. Maj. Alan Grandis. He served six years in the Marine Corps, then he became a firefighter after leaving the military and worked his way up to becoming a battalion chief. Now we are fortunate that he brings both his Marine Corps and first responder experience to mentor, train and coach our VDF volunteers. His leadership assures the VDF’s ability to provide critical capabilities to the Virginia National Guard, helping secure the safety of our fellow Virginians during times of need.
Today as we pause and reflect on the service of all veterans, I hope you will remember these three individuals who come from different branches of the armed forces with diverse backgrounds but yet still have the common goal of serving both commonwealth and country. They raised their right hands, committed themselves to service in the military, and that was an incredibly brave and selfless act. Their spirit of service, their commitment to the ideals of freedom represent their fellow service members here in Virginia as well as the armed forces all over the world.
In every generation, from the Revolutionary War to this era of persistent conflict, brave Americans have stepped up, answered the call and served with honor in the Armed Forces of the United States. Everyone who has worn the cloth of country deserves admiration and respect, and while we can never say thank you enough, Veterans Day gives us the opportunity to properly recognize you and what you have done for our nation. I would like to once again thank all of my fellow veterans for everything you have done in service to our nation, and for everything you continue to do.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you again for the honor and privilege of sharing this special day with you and the opportunity to honor all of our Veterans!