SANDSTON, Va. — More than 150 members of the Virginia Defense Force deployed to locations across the state Nov. 6-7, 2015, to conduct Forward Guardian 2016, a multi-state, multi-agency communication exercise. VDF personnel installed and operated both mobile and fixed short and long range radio communication systems to link simulated mission command nodes with the Virginia National Guard’s Joint Operations Center and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management as well as federal and local exercise participants. The exercise incorporated state defense force units in Ohio, Illinois, South Carolina, Tennessee and California and established radio contact across four time zones.
“Forward Guardian 2016 represented a huge step forward for the VDF in terms of exercise complexity combined with a first ever intrastate state defense force communications exercise,” said Lt. Col. (Va.) Stewart W. Bentley, Jr., operations officer for the VDF. “This exercise continues to grow each year and pushes our capabilities to simulate our response to support the Virginia Army National Guard and agencies of the commonwealth during a real-world disaster.”
Bentley said the VDF accomplished a number of key training objectives including operating on the Department of Homeland Security’s Shared Resources High Frequency contingency communications network with FEMA Region III, conducting ground-to-ground radio tests with the Civil Air Patrol, activating the Virginia Department of Emergency Management’s Old Dominion Emergency Network and utilizing the Statewide Agencies Radio System to provide redundant connectivity for mission command nodes. They also participated with Fairfax County’s Emergency Operations Center HF radio base and deployed a mobile communications platform along Skyline Drive to Pinnacle Labs in Rappahannock County, an elevation of 3,300 feet.
“We know that our ability to use high frequency radio will ensure that, if all other means fail, we can maintain communications over extended distances, as we demonstrated by making contact with California during the exercise,” he said.
Providing interoperable communications is one of the many different missions sets the VDF provides as the all-volunteer auxiliary to the Virginia National Guard. That mission set, along with others like operations center augmentation and operational planning, take advantage of the wide variety of public safety, military and civilian skills that VDF provide.
“The skill sets that VDF members bring to the National Guard civil support playbook were evident in our recent ability to staff a future operations planning cell to support VDEM during Hurricane Joaquin as well as various civil support operations at the Camp Pendleton to augment the Virginia State Police,” Bentley said.
Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, and Command Sgt. Maj. Alan Ferris, Virginia National Guard Senior Enlisted Advisor, visited the VDF’s 4th Regiment in Lynchburg to receive an operations update and to thank the VDF members for volunteering their time to conduct the exercise.
“This was a great opportunity to partner with state defense forces across the nation and exercise communications and mission command, which are key components of our support to civil authorities mission,” Williams said. “The VDF are subject matter experts, and they are providing us with long term experience we can dedicate to this capability. They take it seriously, and they have such tremendous pride in what they do.”
From Lynchburg, VDF members were able to make contact with 10 different states during the exercise, including Los Angles, California, nearly 2,200 miles away.
“This exercise was a good stretch of our operational capabilities, and allowed us to further demonstrate our ability to support the long and short range communications needs of the Virginia National Guard,” said Lt. Col. (Va.) Philip R. Smith, commander of the 4th Regiment.
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.