Va. Defense Force supports Apple Blossom Festival

A member of the Virginia Defense Force operates a traffic control point in support of the Winchester Apple Blossom Festival May 2, 2014. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

A member of the Virginia Defense Force operates a traffic control point in support of the Winchester Apple Blossom Festival May 2, 2014. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

WINCHESTER, Va. — More than 120 members of the all-volunteer Virginia Defense Force augmented local law enforcement May 1-3, 2014, to help make sure the Winchester Apple Blossom Festival went smoothly for the thousands of visitors attending the annual event. Members of the VDF operated traffic control points on May 2 and 3 for several parades and races, and VDF personnel also conducted mission command support at a civil military operations center at the Virginia National Guard’s Cherry-Beasley Readiness Center in Winchester as well as in mobile communication platforms in the city.

In addition to providing support for the city, the mission also provided a great training opportunity for the VDF.

“We are utilizing every VDF communications platform,” said Lt. Col. (Va.) William Robbins, commander of the VDF’s 3rd Regiment and deputy commander for operations for the Apple Blossom Festival support mission. “For the first time, we are using VDF assets exclusively.”

Robbins explained that every VDF member assigned to a TCP was issued a VHF handheld radio to maintain communications with the mobile command posts, and the MCPs used HF radios to maintain communications with CMOC. They also operated the tactical communication packages that provide wireless internet and email capabilities. All personnel received training on proper radio procedures that were then used in a real-world mission environment.

The VDF trains to provide various support teams based on the Virginia National Guard civil support “playbook” for missions such as access control, incident management assistance, operations center augmentation and sheltering management. During times of state active duty, those teams are often deployed individually to support National Guard units in the field.

“This mission gives our personnel the chance to be part of a full-scale operation and see first hand how it is coordinated and executed,” Robbins said. There were also opportunities for training on leadership skills by operating in teams larger than what they might be in during domestic operations spread over the state.

Robbins said they approached the mission just like a state active duty operation that begins with notifications, detailed in processing procedures, pre-mission checks and staff operations similar to what they would do if called to state active duty.

The VDF is an all-volunteer force authorized by the Code of Virginia and organized under the Virginia Department of Military Affairs 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.