WINCHESTER, Va. — Members of the Virginia Defense Force operated traffic control points and provided mission command support May 1-2, 2015, at the 88th Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester, Va. In addition to providing a valuable service to their community, it also provided 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.
Nearly 90 members of the all-volunteer VDF from units across the state augmented local law enforcement to help ensure traffic flow for the races and parades on Friday and Saturday.
“We love having the Virginia Defense Force out here, and we could not make this big event happen without them,” said Winchester Chief of Police Kevin Sanzenbacher. “These people are amazing because they are out there all day, on their feet, directing traffic and you never hear any complaints.”
The Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival is a series of more than thirty events held from April 24 to May 3 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.
Sanzenbacher explained that the VDF operated almost all the traffic control points for the one mile kids race and Firefighters’ Parade May 1 as well as the 10K race and Grand Feature Parade May 2 in order to make sure that vehicle traffic didn’t come on to the race or parade routes.
He and several other Winchester officials commended the VDF on their professionalism and expressed their appreciation for the VDF’s support during the planning phases for the festival as well as event itself.
“This is a great chance to get out into the public and tell our story,” said Brig. Gen. (Va.) Justin Carlitti, commander of the VDF. “Our members come from the community, so this is a great recruiting opportunity for us as well. People see us out there helping out and ask how they can join.”
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.
“We are very fortunate to have our state defense force in Virginia, because not every state has one,” said Brig. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia. “The opportunity to use this organization to get out and help in our communities is a tremendous thing.”
Members of the VDF perform a similar function for the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond when they volunteer their time to assist with traffic control during Memorial Day and Veterans Day events.
Because the VDF’s structure can be modified to meet mission demands, it is a force that provides a great deal of flexibility, Williams said. The VDF has evolved in recent years and become experts on the National Incident Management System and also provides interoperable communications capabilities that could be used during domestic response operations.
Planning for this year’s support to the festival began in June of last year, almost as soon as the festival ended, said Lt. Col. (Va.) Williams Robbins, commander of the VDF’s Winchester-based 3rd Regiment. Robbins also served as the commander for Task Force Shenandoah, the overall mission command organization for VDF personnel on duty for the mission.
The VDF has developed robust interoperable communications capabilities in recent years, and it deployed those capabilities during the Apple Blossom Festival, Robbins said this enabled them to test their systems in a real-world environment and see what works, what doesn’t and how to improve.
Robbins explained that the traffic control point mission in Winchester supports the VDF’s access control mission that is part of the Virginia National Guard’s civil support task list, so it is a valuable training opportunity as well as service to the community.
Drawing up the experience of VDF members with civilian or military law enforcement background, a training plan was developed to get everyone taking part up to speed on the proper ways to operate a TCP. Many VDF members arrived Thursday evening and were able to conduct training before the missions began on Friday.
Robbins said the support mission was also a chance to work on procedures for personnel accountability similar to what would be used if the VDF was called to state active duty.
“I am extremely proud of the great work the VDF has done to support the Winchester community,” Williams said. “They are a vital part of the Virginia National Guard’s response capability here in the commonwealth, and this mission allows them to provide an invaluable service while honing their skills and prepare for future requirements.”
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