Senator Mark Warner and Senator Tim Kaine present thank you letters to Col. Chris Samulski, commander of the Virginia National Guard’s 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Feb. 8, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Governor Ralph Northam and Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton joined Kaine and Warner in thanking VNG troops for supporting civilian law enforcement for the 59th Presidential Inauguration. (Photo by Cotton Puryear)
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The last group of Virginia National Guard personnel assisting civilian law enforcement with security operations at the 59th Presidential Inauguration and the days before and after the event departed Washington, D.C., Feb. 8, 2021. On Inauguration Day, approximately 2,400 VNG troops were among the more than 25,000 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen from across the country on duty assisting authorities with keeping people safe and protecting property. A group of about 1,000 VNG personnel remained to assist with the enduring National Guard support following the inauguration.
Governor Ralph Northam, Senator Mark Warner, Senator Tim Kaine and Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton were on hand to send off the last group from the D.C. Armory and express their appreciation to the Soldiers and Airmen who left their loved ones, jobs and schools to answer the call of duty.
“We are here to let you know how proud we are of you, and also to thank you,” Northam said. “I couldn’t have been prouder to initially send in our Virginia State Police and then deploy our National Guard, and within 24 hours, you were on the ground to protect our democracy and bring order back to the United State Capitol.”
Joining the elected officials were Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Carlos Hopkins, Deputy Secretary Kathleen Jabs, Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, commander of the D.C. National Guard, Maj. Gen. John M. Rhodes, 29th Infantry Division commanding general, and Brig. Gen. James W. Ring, VNG director of the Joint Staff.
Northam also acknowledged families make a sacrifice along with the troops, and he asked the troops to extended his thanks to their families as well.
“I think in the proud history of the Virginia National Guard, this will go down as one of your most important missions,” Warner said before he and Kaine presented unit thank you letters to Col. Chris Samulski, commander of the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
According to Maj. Brandon Price, the 116th IBCT operations officer, the 116th deployed with elements of all their organic battalions, including the Kentucky National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry Regiment, as well as elements of the 329th Regional Support Group and the 192nd Wing and units from additional states. On Inauguration Day, the 116th was leading a total of 22 battalion-sized elements from 25 different states with more than 9,000 personnel.
Price said missions included leading four distinct task forces with missions ranging from securing the Library of Congress, providing a quick reaction force to D.C. Metro Police and U.S. Park Police, secured the Capitol Grounds from Jan. 12-23 including providing security through the 59th Presidential Inauguration, providing assistance to the U.S. Capitol Police as they expanded the security perimeter around the Capitol Grounds, providing QRF elements to the U.S. Secret Service staged at the White House, followed by a return to QRF duties with the USPP.
As the mission came to a close, the 1116th operations team coordinated to have all VNG personnel tested for COVID-19 prior to departing the Washington, D.C., area for out processing.
Samulski said it was a significant accomplishment to muster all the elements in under 48 hours, and for a brigade headquarters designed to manage about 3,500 Soldiers to led a combined force of more than 9,000. In particular, he said he was incredibly impressed by the team of Soldiers and Airmen who were able to organize and deploy an element of 2,500 troops from the D.C. Armory for duty at the Capitol with just three hours notice.
“Across the board, no matter what state they were from, they were professional and easy to work with,” Samulski said. “The ability to adjust rapidly and be flexible was represented in every unit, and it was a great team with positive attitudes. It was pretty amazing.”
Supporting the mission created numerous challenges for the brigade staff. For example, the 116th IBCT S4 logistics section coordinated more than 1,300 transportation missions, delivered more than 50,000 meals and thousands of MREs as well as coordinating for the issue of more than 1,000 sets of civil disturbance protective equipment and issue more than 80,000 rounds of ammunition. They booked more than 3,000 individual hotel rooms for 116th personnel, and they coordinated the consolidation from 24 hotels to four in a 24 hours period during hazardous winter weather with no serious incidents.
The experience of managing a large operation was a great training benefit to the staff, Samulski said. A large-scale staff training exercise was planned for annual training this summer, but the mission provided an opportunity to gain real-world experience to help prepare the staff for future state or federal missions. Since the National Guard normally trains one weekend each month and 15 days in the summer, Samulski said they essentially got a year’s worth of proficiency in one month and it gave an early look to the staff’s ability to track people and synchronize operations.
“Every day an NCO or an officer gets to lead Soldiers is a day in which someone learns something,” Samulski said. “Every day you are around Soldiers and you lead is just another day of proficiency you gain. All the things we would do in a military environment were here for us to manage, problem solve and get better.”
With Soldiers on duty for more than 30 days, the 116th’s scheduled training for drill weekend in January and February was impacted, Samulski said. Once the unit shifted to the QRF mission after inauguration, there was time in between duty shifts for Soldiers to conduct training to help fill some of the gaps. There were also periods of downtime where Soldiers were able to visit locations in nation's capital.
“There are amazing historical sites in the Washington, D.C., area,” Samulski said. “Our Soldiers were able to take advantage of the opportunity to see things they normally wouldn’t get a chance to see.”
He acknowledge what a challenging situation the rapid deployment created for families and what a great job they did reacting and supporting their troops.
“This is a historic moment,” Samulski said. “Our Soldiers volunteered to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, and they came here and did that on short notice. I am proud of them and proud of the legacy they leave for this unit.”