WINCHESTER, Va. –
Members of the Virginia Defense Force operate traffic control points and provide mission command support May 5, 2017, at the 90th Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester, Virginia. More than 90 members of the all-volunteer VDF from units across the state assisted local law enforcement in keeping traffic moving and operated as many as 59 TCPs during a variety of events May 5 and 6. 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.
“If we didn’t have the Virginia Defense Force here during the Apple Blossom Festival, we wouldn’t be able to have the Apple Blossom Festival,” said City of Winchester Sheriff Les Taylor. “The Virginia Defense Force is always great to work with. They do a fantastic job downtown, and they help make sure everything goes smoothly.”
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, and Taylor described it as one of Winchester’s greatest events, now it its 90th year.
“On behalf of the citizens of Winchester and Frederick County, we would like to thank you for the service you provide,” said the Honorable Terry H. Whittle, clerk of the Winchester Circuit Court, before he swore in a group of VDF troops as special deputies. “You play a vital role, and we appreciate what you do for this festival. Without your support, this couldn’t go on.”
In addition to providing a valuable service to their community, the ABF mission also provides the VDF with an opportunity to train on multiple communication systems and rehearse procedures they would use if they were called to state active duty to augment the Virginia National Guard.
“I was very impressed when I saw the VDF in action, and they were extremely professional in the way they carried out their mission,” said Brig. Gen. Paul Griffin, Virginia National Guard Director of the Joint Staff after he visited Winchester May 6. “The VDF is interwoven with the Virginia National Guard during state active duty, and they are essential to our ability to respond to weather events like hurricanes and snow storms. The real-world experience they get at an event like the Apple Blossom Festival helps mature their ability to perform mission command and improves their overall readiness.”
Lt. Col. (Va.) Thomas Cooke, commander of the VDF’s Apple Blossom support mission, explained that overall things went very well. The mission provided opportunities for hands-on experience with communications equipment, and he was impressed with how well VDF leaders looked after their personnel to make sure they were safe, especially during some of the inclement weather.
The VDF is authorized by the Code of the Virginia as the all-volunteer reserve of the Virginia National Guard and serves as a force multiplier integrated into all Va. Guard domestic operations and reporting to the Adjutant General of Virginia. The 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.
VDF members bring a wide variety of public safety, military and civilian skills to mission sets including access control, interoperable communications support, operations center augmentation, resource management, operational planning, incident management assistance and public information.
VDF members also volunteer their time to assist with access control, traffic management, parking assistance and other support in their communities throughout the year including ceremonies held at the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond on Memorial Day and Veterans Day.