Historic displays at VNG headquarters help tell Guard’s story

The Virginia National Guard held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly-built Joint Force Headquarters building May 14, 2018, at Defense Supply Center Richmond in Chesterfield County, Virginia. The 102,000 square foot, $30 million building is the first structure purpose-built to serve as a headquarters for the VNG in its more than 410 year history, and there a number of historical displays outside the new facility that help tell the organization’s story.

Front and center outside of the front entrance to the headquarters building is an M41 Walker Bulldog, an American-made light tank developed for armed reconnaissance and scouting. The Bulldog is named for World War II leader Gen. Walton Walker. VNG’s Armor units were equipped with the M41 Walker Bulldog in the 1960’s. This particular M41 is dedicated in honor of of all Virginia National Guardsmen who have served or are serving in calvary, ammunition train, convoy escort, combat engineer or armor units since 1916. Their unyielding devotion to their county, their state and their comrades is symbolized in the solid armor of this vehicle and its hard-hitting 76mm cannon.

At the front-right corner of the headquarters building is the M101A1 light howitzer, a vehicle-towed light field artillery weapon used for direct and indirect fire. The howitzer’s design pre-dates World War II, and was used throughout the Vietnam War and later operations. This 105mm howitzer is dedicated to the memory of all of the Virginia National Guardsmen who served in the 29th Infantry Division in World War II. It has been painted to commemorate the bravery of the Soldiers assigned to the 111th Field Artillery Battalion involved in the landing on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France June 6, 1944. There, VNG artillerymen struggled through high seas and heavy enemy fire with their cannons mounted on amphibious vehicles. Though many of the weapons were lost at sea, the battalion never wavered in their determination to reach shore and support their fellow Guardsmen.

Commanding attention next to the M41 Walker Bulldog is the F-84F Thunderstreak, a fighter and reconnaissance jet which served from the mid 1950’s until being retired in 1972. It was the first fighter aircraft to use in-flight refueling, and was capable of carrying a nuclear weapon. This Thunderstreak is dedicated in honor of all Virginia National Guardsmen who served during the Cold War, from the end of World War II until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Their discipline and dedication were fundamental to the prevention of a superpower military conflict. The Virginia Air National Guard’s 149th Tactical Fighter Squadron was activated at the height of the Cold War in 1961.

Around the corner from the M101A1 howitzer is the Bell UH-1H Iroquois helicopter, better known as the “Huey.” The UH-1H was developed to meet the U.S. Army’s need for a medical evacuation and utility helicopter. This Huey is dedicated in honor of all helicopter pilots, crew members and support personnel who served in the Virginia Army National Guard’s aviation units from World War II until the present day. It is also dedicated in honor of the thousands of Vietnam War veterans of all services who call Virginia home and served their country with honor and courage.

Inside the headquarters building, in the corner of the main assembly hall, sits a World War I-era heavy German mortar, Calle a “Minenwerfer.” The weapon was presented to Virginia by the Republic of France as a trophy after World War I. In a strange twist, the mortar was lost after the Petersburg Armory was torn down in the 1960s. It was not found again until 2016, when if was found at a home near Petersburg before it was eventually returned to the Virginia National Guard. The recovery was completed in June 2016 by VNG Soldiers assigned to the Combined Surface Maintenance Shops at DSCR.

Tucked into the corner of the lobby inside the main entrance of the headquarters building is a F-16 cockpit trainer. The trainer was an invaluable training tool that familiarized pilots with normal and emergency procedures required for the safe operation of the aircraft. It allowed for over-the-shoulder instruction of pilots, preparing them for expected and unexpected situation in flight. The Virginia Air National Guard’s 192nd Fighter Wing received their first F-16 Fighting Falcon in 1991. After becoming fully operational with the F-16, the 192nd was chosen as the lead unit in a four-state Air National Guard F-16 “rainbow” detachment deployed to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, to support Operation Provide Comfort II. During that operation in late December 1993 and early January 1994, pilots patrolled the no-fly zone over northern Iraq to prevent Iraqi forces from inflicting damage on the villages of Kurdish minorities. This was the first time Air National Guard units had been called to active duty to serve in a peacekeeping role in the Mideast, following Iraq’s defeat in 1991.