VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – The State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach serves as a vital training installation, not just for the Virginia National Guard, but for personnel from all four branches of the military, both active duty and reserve, local and state first responders, and a variety of community organizations. Its prime location is just one reason for its popularity however. The facilities and training aides available, as well as the willingness of its staff, make it a vital training location for its customers.
The senior leadership of the Virginia Guard has recognized SMR’s importance and made improving the installation a focus over the past few years.
“Under the Adjutant General’s leadership there has been a renewed focus on making sure that SMR is a long-term, viable asset to the VNG and other agencies,” explained Lt. Col. Timothy Pillion, SMR commander. “So we’ve put a tremendous amount of resources into accomplishing that mission. It’s evident when you drive on post and see all the work that’s been done. If you’ve never been here before it just looks like a bunch of historic buildings. But if you’ve been here before you see the difference.”
Within the past few years, Hurt Hall and the post headquarters have undergone renovations. Work is planned on the SMR chapel as well.
The most visible changes recently are the repaving of roads and the replacement of roofs. All of the roads at SMR were repaved this winter, which Pillion says was decades overdue. In addition, work continues on roofs throughout the installation. So far 17 roofs have been replaced since Oct. 1, 2018, an average of one a week.
Recently work has also been completed on the fitness facility, where bathrooms were renovated, new lighting was installed and an old sauna was removed. That’s in addition to new equipment that was installed within the past few years.
“That work was just completed,” Pillion said. “We have a smaller customer base than Fort Pickett but I think we have a nice gym. It’s the right size for this size post.”
In addition, a host of other buildings have been renovated, including classrooms, barracks and dining facilities. Some of this work includes new heating and air conditioning, installing fire escapes, replacing tiling and overhauling bathrooms.
During the spring and summer months, servicemembers and their families take advantage of the cottage and apartment rentals at SMR. They received another option last year when a new cottage was open for rental.
“Cottage 94 was a house that had been vacated for at least seven years,” Pillion said. “We did a complete renovation. It’s already received overwhelmingly positive comments from people who’ve stayed there.”
While a number of projects are already complete, more improvements are coming this spring and summer.
Visitors to the beach will also see something new. A few years ago, a hurricane knocked down power lines that went to the range and beach area. Since then, according to Pillion, the only power at the beach has been via generators. SMR is now preparing a power expansion down to the beach area.
In addition, a new beach hygiene facility is currently under construction and scheduled to open in the spring. It will include not only bathrooms for beach goers but also shower facilities they can use to wash off the sand after a day at the beach.
A lot of the construction on SMR is in part because of its relationship with the city and state. For example, SMR agreed to host a transoceanic cable line which connects Spain to Virginia. It comes ashore on SMR property.
“It’s a big deal for the city and the state,” Pillion said. “Our location and relationship with them allowed the city to bring it on land here.”
In exchange for using SMR property to bring the cable ashore, the city helped with water and sewer lines down to the rifle range.
“This is why we have the hygiene facility now and eventually could put more buildings or classrooms down there,” Pillion said. “We’ve been able to expand our services because the cable lands here, because of that relationship”
The Coastal Virginia Offshore wind project will soon feature two wind turbines out at sea. When those are completed another large cable will land on the beach and bring power to Virginia. In exchange, SMR will see more improvements.
However, the main purpose of SMR is as a training facility and its versatility allows numerous agencies an opportunity to train there.
Two years ago a large, tension fabric structure was replaced with an arched steel panel building, also known as a K-SPAN, constructed by the Air National Guard personnel. This spring and summer the second tension fabric structure will be replaced by another K-SPAN.
“The benefit is it gives us a stable, well-insulated, noise-reducing structure that can be configured as a classroom, conference facility or used for physical fitness,” Pillion said. “The long-term goal is to bring in warfighters and command post exercises to SMR.”
The first K-SPAN has been used for a variety of training and now that capability will be doubled.
“We’ve parked helicopters in it and used it for sling load training,” Pillion said. “It’s a great facility.”
The fabric structure will come down in April and beginning in May the 203rd Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer, or RED HORSE, will oversee the construction of the new facility.
The 203rd will serve as project managers for the construction as other RED HORSE units from around the country come to Virginia Beach and work throughout the summer.
In addition, the 203rd’s airfield damage repair training site is used for training for one of the unit’s primary missions.
“It’s a great training facility for them to practice their missions,” Pillion said. “It gives the RED HORSE a great training platform and it gives us a great driver’s training area, landing zone and parking lot.”
In addition to the 203rd RED HORSE, a number of other units are located on SMR and train there regularly, including A Troop and C Troop, 2nd Battalion, 183rd Cavalry Regiment, the 1173rd Transportation Company, the 529th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion and the 329th Regional Support Group. The Virginia Guard Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy is also located on SMR and their cadets are often seen marching around post.
The Virginia National Guard Funeral Honors Team and the Virginia National Guard Sexual Assault Response Coordinator’s office are among those who regularly train there.
“We’ve seen a lot of different customers over the past few years,” Pillion said. “What we lack in ranges and training space we make up for with location and ability to host units that want to engage at one of the many other military installations near us.”
In addition to Army and Air National Guard units, SMR hosts active duty units from all four branches and the U.S. Coast Guard.
“SMR give our units a great location where they can spend more time on training and less time driving to a training site,” Pillion said. “Our working relationships with other bases in the area have also allowed us to facilitate joint training opportunities on several occasions.”
It also hosts training by local, state and federal law enforcement officers and first responders. The Virginia State Police, Virginia Beach Police Department, Virginia Beach Fire Department and the Virginia Fire Marshals Academy are just a few of the other agencies who train at SMR.
“We’re the only place in the area with a transient billeting,” Waldron explained.
Nearby installations don’t have low cost, open-bay barracks for people to stay. As a result, many units will set up their admin space at SMR, stay in the barracks there and then go train at another nearby installation. But oftentimes they also decide the utilize the facilities at SMR since they are already staying there.
“A lot of Army Reserve units train here and use our Engagement Skills Trainer, stabilized gunnery and our live 25-meter, live-fire range,” Waldron explained.
As for the range, itself, Pillion said SMR has seen an increase in range usage recently.
“We’ve done some work down there, built a few structures to make it more comfortable, built bleachers, renovated the observation tower,” he said. “And we’ve seen an increase in training and customers coming through here.”
This increase in training means that the small SMR staff needs to be prepared to do a host of duties.
“In the operations cell we are the director of logistics, range operations and base operations,” Waldron said. “We’re a multifaceted operation with a minimum staff and the staff here is phenomenal. They’re multitalented and can shift from one task to another without skipping a beat. Traffic control one minute to barracks clearing the next. It’s all to support our customers.”
Many more projects are planned as part of SMR’s 25-year plan but for now Pillion and his staff are looking forward to more immediate improvements and satisfying the training needs of their customers.
“I always tell customers that we have a small staff but we pride ourselves on being flexible and easy to work with,” Pillion said. “We’re customer oriented and we have the flexibility to meet the training needs. As long as it’s safe and legal we’ll do our best to help you accomplish your training needs.”