Va. Guard Soldiers gain valuable experience while assigned to JNGAU

Col. Fred Bolton presents Maj. Paul Gravely with the Joint Services Commendation Medal and Joint Chiefs of Staff Identification Badge earned by Gravely during his tour of duty with the Joint National Guard Augmentation Unit in Suffolk, Va. (Photo by Capt. Andrew J. Czaplicki, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

Col. Fred Bolton presents Maj. Paul Gravely with the Joint Services Commendation Medal and Joint Chiefs of Staff Identification Badge earned by Gravely during his tour of duty with the Joint National Guard Augmentation Unit in Suffolk, Va. (Photo by Capt. Andrew J. Czaplicki, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

SUFFOLK, Va. — Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Norfolk-based Joint National Guard Augmentation Unit, 91st Troop Command, receive a unique opportunity to work alongside other services and train with joint commands during their tour.

“This is the most unique experience in the Virginia National Guard,” said Lt. Col. Patrick Bulger. “You’re looking at things from a strategic level, from a level that is a universal leap above what you would see on a normal drill weekend.”

Virginia Guard Soldiers assigned to JNGAU are split between two organizations. Approximately 14 Virginia Guard Soldiers are assigned to Joint Task Force-Civil Support based at Fort Eustis while another 14 are assigned to support the J-7 (Joint Force Development) for The Joint Staff in Suffolk.

JTF-CS is a standing joint task force and subordinate command of U.S. Army North which anticipates, plans, and prepares for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Defense Support of Civil Authorities response operations. Soldiers assigned here primarily stick to their assigned duty position and serve as they would in any other unit.

Soldiers assigned to J-7 serve in a variety of positions and provide support to major command exercise around the world throughout the year. The Soldiers drill once a month but their annual training is often scheduled around major exercises.

They are part of the Joint Reserve Unit, which consists of National Guard Soldiers as well Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard reservists. Their mission is to assist the Joint Staff with joint force development, training, exercises, doctrine, lessons learned, and concept development and experimentation.

“We support and augment the fulltime civilians and military personnel when they conduct major exercises,” Bulger explained. “We’re able to help out with their manpower problems, to go to exercises and seamlessly fill that role.”

The J7 mission is to support the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Warfighter through joint force development in order to advance the operational effectiveness of the current and future joint force.

After two years of assignment to JNGAU and the J7, Virginia Guard Soldiers are also authorized to wear the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Identification Badge.

The Soldiers are often put into roles where they might have experience or where they might best serve the organization. Either way they return from their tour at J-7 more knowledgeable about the military as a whole. Soldiers get used to dealing with organizations and leaders at a level higher than combatant commands.

“A regularly drilling Virginia Guard Soldier is probably not going to work with two or three- star commands on a regular basis, unless they are on the staff of the 29th Infantry Division or TAG,” Bulger said.

Because many of the Virginia Guard Soldiers have such a depth of knowledge, they often end up being assigned as section chiefs or in leadership positions with the Joint Reserve Element. Twenty percent of the leadership roles in the Joint Reserve Unit are filled by Virginia Guard Soldiers, according to Bulger.

“This is a unique opportunity to interact with other services and learn their perspectives,” said Capt. Will Johnson, who has been assigned to JNGAU for more than two years.

“I didn’t realize all the operations and how other services work together,” added Capt. Jacob Bennington. “I’ve learned how the Guard fits in with the rest of the DOD and how that impacts how the Guard operates.”