NEWS | July 8, 2017

Virginia Defense Force evaluates communication platforms

By Cotton Puryear | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

The Virginia Defense Force conducted an operational readiness evaluation on the Mobile Communication Platforms it would use during emergency response operations in support of the Virginia National Guard July 8, 2017, in Lynchburg, Virginia. VDF teams were evaluated on their ability to move MCPs from their home station to a duty location, put them into operation and make contact using voice and data with a remote location. MCPs stationed in Bedford, Lynchburg, Pulaski and Richmond took part in the evaluation and established voice and data connections with the Virginia National Guard’s Joint Operations Center in Sandston, Virginia.

“Today was a big milestone for us because we were able to deploy all four MCPs from remote locations and demonstrate our ability to set up the equipment in a proficient manner, communicate on all the modes that we need to and do it safely,” said Lt. Col. (Va.) Phil Smith, commander of the VDF’s Lynchburg-based 4th Regiment. “This has been a big success.”

Smith explained that recently the VDF put an emphasis on monthly training and equipment checks to make sure everything is working correctly and personnel are able to keep their skills sharp.

He also credited the civilian experience that many VDF personnel bring with them to the mission and their willingness to share their knowledge and expertise with those who have less experience.

“Their success is directly related to their experience in the amateur radio community, and they bring a real depth of knowledge with them,” he said.

The VDF MCP is a 7 1/2 feet by 16 feet trailer equipped with multiple radio systems for voice and data communications, and it also features a map board and work space so it can function as a mobile command post. Using an MCP, members of the VDF are able to communicate across a variety of radio spectrums with emergency response and public safety organizations as well as amateur radio operators. In the event of severe weather like hurricanes or heavy snow where traditional communication systems could become disrupted, the VDF MCPs would provide a vital communications capability for the Virginia National Guard as it conducts operations to assist with keeping citizens of the commonwealth safe.

“We primarily use high frequency radio which allows us to communicate anywhere around the globe, but we primarily focus on the state of Virginia,” explained Capt. (Va.) Randy Lilly, commander of the Communications Battalion in the VDF’s 4th Regiment. “This system we use is self-contained, and we can provide point-to-point communications without the need of any existing infrastructure. So if the internet goes down, or the telephone lines go down, we can still talk anywhere we want to.”

He said the system provides both voice and data communications. While the data speed is comparable to dial-up internet, it would still be useful to send information like supply lists that would be more complicated to communicate by voice.

Lilly is one of the VDF leaders with significant amateur radio experience, and Smith explained that he was able to use that experience to field a new antenna system that is more reliable and easier to deploy.

“I am very impressed by what I have seen out here today,” said Brig. Gen. (Va.) Justin Carlitti, commander of the VDF. “We have been working with these systems every month, and it shows in the increased proficiency of our people. Today we have demonstrated that we can effectively deploy, set up and operate in order to support the National Guard and the citizens of the commonwealth.”

Carlitti said that as he talked with VDF personnel, they were all very excited to be out getting hands-on experience with what they trained to do.

Looking ahead, the Carlitti said the VDF plans to take part in the Virginia Interoperability Exercise in the fall and demonstrate their ability to work with other state and local agencies.

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.

VDF members bring a wide variety of military, law enforcement, firefighting, emergency medical services, network security, radio communications and other civilian skills to mission sets including emergency communications support, operations center augmentation, resource management, operational planning, incident management assistance, cyber defense, access control and public information.

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.

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