WINCHESTER, Va. –
Members of the Virginia Defense Force operated traffic control points and provided mission command support May 4-5, 2018, at the 91st Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester, Virginia. Members of the all-volunteer VDF from units across the state assisted local law enforcement in keeping traffic moving and operated more than 50 TCPs during a variety of events over the two days. The VDF also took advantage of the mission to train on multiple communication systems and rehearse administrative, mission command and logistics procedures they would use if they were called to state active duty to augment the Virginia National Guard.
“It is amazing to me that you are willing to give your time and service to make this festival go forward,” said the Honorable Terry H. Whittle, clerk of the Winchester Circuit Court, before he swore in a group of VDF troops as special deputies. “Without your participation, this wouldn’t go on. You serve a vital role, and the City of Winchester and Frederick County thank you. Every year I heard good things about what you do, and that is because you are well trained and you do your job in a professional way.”
The VDF is authorized by Title 44 of the Code of the Virginia as the all-volunteer reserve of the Virginia National Guard, and it serves as a force multiplier integrated into all Guard domestic operations. The VDF reports to the Adjutant General of Virginia as part of the Virginia Department of Military Affairs along with the Virginia Army National Guard and Virginia Air National Guard. Members of the VDF volunteer their time for training and are only paid when called to state active duty by an authorization from the Governor of Virginia.
“I am continually amazed and proud of the VDF members who are willing to commit to supporting ABF,” said Lt. Col. (Va.) Thomas Cook, commander of the VDF’s Manassas-based 2nd Regiment and officer in charge of the VDF’s support to the festival. “Despite the long hours and often inclement weather, their morale is always high as they return year after year to assist the city. Their efforts exemplify Virginians Helping Virginians.”
The Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival is a series of more than thirty events held in Winchester and Frederick County including band competitions, dances, parades and a 10K Race. Crowds in excess of 250,000 attend the festival each year,
“I love being out here,” said Sgt. (Va.) Christopher Holstrom who is assigned to the VDF Headquarters in Richmond. “I enjoy helping the city and interacting with people, and this gives me a chance to be of service.”
Holstrom recently returned to the VDF after a break, and he explained that in addition to the opportunity to be of service, it also provides an opportunity to do something different from his full time work as a chemist.
Sgt. (Va.) Pete Leon from the VDF’s Manassas-based 2nd Regiment echoed Holstrom’s desire to help his fellow Virginians.
“I am here to give back to my community,” Leon said. “I have been helped in the past, and I wanted to give back. I had wondered how I could more, and I felt like this was a perfect way to do that.”
Leon works as a painting contractor and feels comfortable with one-on-one interactions with customers, but the VDF gave him an opportunity to learn new public speaking skills.
“I never had experience talking with a large group,” Leon said. “The first time I taught a class, I was a wreck. I was nervous. But now I feel much more comfortable and look forward to it.”
The Virginia Defense Force is making plans to expand its capabilities and continue to build partnerships in order to better support their fellow Virginians. The all-volunteer reserve of the Virginia National Guard is looking to grow from its current strength of approximately 300 personnel to its full authorized strength of 750, add additional mission sets and continue discussions with organizations such as the Civil Air Patrol and U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary for training and exercise opportunities.
“The Adjutant General of Virginia has specifically highlighted how we are now a much more capable and professional force, he commended our achievements as a command, control and communications entity, and he wants us to continue to hone and expand those skills, particularly in reaching out to external organizations like the Civil Air Patrol and Coast Guard Auxiliary,” explained Brig. Gen. (Va.) Justin Carlitti, commander of the VDF. “Based on the incidents of severe weather that impacted multiple locations across our nation in 2017, the AG tasked the VDF to grow in order to better support the Virginia National Guard’s mission of assisting emergency response organizations to protect citizens of the commonwealth in times of need.”
In addition to current mission sets like interoperable communications, operations center augmentation, incident management assistance and public information, Carlitti explained the VDF staff will evaluate the creation of a civil support security platoon that could perform security tasks such as access control, gate sentry and traffic control as well as operate radio systems used by law enforcement, support commodity distribution points and conduct light urban and wilderness search and rescue.
The VDF is also growing cyber defense capabilities and has assisted with numerous Virginia National Guard network security assessments for Virginia localities in a state active duty status, and it is also looking to expand its ability to provide medical support, Carlitti said.
Carlitti said the VDF plans to conduct four three-day training assemblies at Fort Pickett this year that will focus on professional military education, small unit leadership and headquarters staff operations as well as refresher training on communications equipment and initial entry training for new members in addition to training on the expanded mission sets. Operational readiness evaluations will also be conducted to ensure personnel and equipment are ready for possible state active duty response missions.
In recent months when severe weather struck the commonwealth, VDF personnel worked in a number of different capacities. In the Virginia Emergency Operations Center, they assisted with processing requests for support in Emergency Support Function 16, the Guard’s response cell in the VEOC. They also assisted with mission tracking in the Guard’s Joint Operations Center and helped with public information support as well as providing interoperable communications and incident management assistance to units in the field.
During domestic operations, the Virginia National Guard receives missions through the Virginia Department of Emergency Management to assist the Virginia State Police and other state and local emergency service organizations as part of the state emergency response team.
In the last 18 months, members of the VDF also volunteered in their communities assisting organizers and law enforcement at events like the Virginia War Memorial during Veterans Day and Memorial Day, the Winchester Apple Blossom Festival, the Lynchburg Air Show and the World War II Commemoration in Richmond.