Va. Guard balances state, federal missions in 2015

Virginia Guard aviators deliver supplies to iced-in Tangier Island

A Virginia Army National Guard aviation crew from the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment delivers food, mail and medicine Feb. 19, 2015, to iced-in Tangier Island, Va. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

SANDSTON, Va. — The Virginia National Guard is a unique dual-status force with a federal mission to serve as a combat reserve to help fight our nation’s wars and a state mission to provide domestic response capability to answer the call of the Governor to assist citizens of the commonwealth during times of need. All through 2015, the Virginia National Guard and its all-volunteer reserve, the Virginia Defense Force, demonstrated at home and across the globe that its forces are ready to respond when needed.

More than 450 Soldiers assigned to Task Force Normandy, a unit comprised of the Winchester-based 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment and Suffolk-based Troop B, 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, officially began their security mission in Southwest Asia in November and celebrated Thanksgiving in their new duty location. Additionally, a platoon of approximately 30 Soldiers assigned to the Virginia Beach-based Delta Platoon, 229th Military Police Company, 529th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group began conducting security operations on federal active duty at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, while 10 Soldiers from the Fort Belvoir-based 29th Infantry Division  mobilized in Southwest Asia in support of Operation Inherent Resolve and U.S. Central Command efforts as members of Combined Joint Interagency Task Force, Syria. They are operating as an engineer team conducting construction project management and contracting efforts throughout the area of operations and as an administrative team supporting personnel actions for Army forces deployed to forward positions throughout the region.

In total, the end of 2015 saw almost 500 Soldiers from across the state deployed on federal missions outside of the United States and nearly 600 Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are scheduled to mobilize in 2016. Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 15,000 Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen have mobilized on federal active duty for homeland security missions and combat operations, sustainment support and peacekeeping in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and other locations around the world.

In addition to the Soldiers and Airmen who started federal mobilizations in 2015, multiple Army and Air Guard units completed deployments and returned home after providing logistical planning and support, security and combat aviation capability.

Soldiers from the Virginia Beach-based 529th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group returned to Virginia in April after serving on federal active duty in Kuwait since July 2014. During the deployment they planned and coordinated combat sustainment support for U.S. and coalition forces in Kuwait and the surrounding region to include Afghanistan and Iraq. They were also one of eight units recognized as a Distinguished Unit of the Regiment during the Quartermaster Regimental Honors and Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in June at Fort Lee, Virginia.

Active duty and Virginia National Guard Airmen assigned to the 94th Fighter Squadron and 149th Fighter Squadron returned in early October to Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, after a six-month deployment to the Middle East. Approximately 200 members of the 1st Fighter Wing and 192nd Fighter Wing, operating the F-22 Raptor, were assigned to United States Central Command as part of a theater security package, providing support and stability to the region.

Additionally, more than 35 Virginia National Guard Airmen assigned to the 192nd Security Forces Squadron at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia, returned in October from two simultaneous deployments to Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates after serving on federal active duty since April.

At home in Virginia, the National Guard and the VDF were called to state active duty in response to heavy snow, ice and flooding, first in February over an almost three-week period when more than 330 Soldiers staged at locations across the commonwealth to assist local law enforcement and emergency response organizations with delivering food, water, medicine and other supplies, evacuating citizens for safety and medical assistance and removing snow berms limiting road access with engineer equipment. Virginia National Guard aviators also conducted an aerial resupply mission to deliver supplies to an iced-in Tangier Island.

In October, the Virginia National Guard staged more than 550 personnel for possible flood response at key locations across the commonwealth, with increased participation from Virginia Air National Guard and Virginia Defense Force units in addition to Virginia Army National Guard units. The state was spared the impact of Hurricane Joaquin, and Guard Soldiers conducted only a handful of missions assisting emergency officials with reconnaissance and high water transport. The Guard also provided the Virginia Department of Emergency Management with future operations planners from the Army Guard and VDF and imagery analysis from Army Guard aviators and the Air Guard.

The VDF, 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, was integrated into all Virginia National Guard domestic operations. Providing interoperable communications is one of the many different missions sets the VDF provides. 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 members provide.

During 2015, the VDF operated traffic control points and provided mission command support in May at the 88th Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester, Virginia, where they augmented local law enforcement and more than 150 members of the VDF deployed to locations across the state in November to conduct Forward Guardian 2016, a multi-state, multi-agency communication exercise. There, 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 six states and established radio contact across four time zones.

In 2015, two key Virginia National Guard domestic response forces conducted external evaluations designed to ensure their readiness to assist local, state and federal authorities in the event of a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incident. The Soldiers and Airmen of the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, High-Yield Explosive Response Force Package, also known as the CERFP (pronounced “surf-p”), was recommended for validation after being assessed as fully trained on 19 of 23 total major tasks, needing practice on four tasks and having no untrained tasks by an external evaluation held in May at the Virginia Beach Fire and EMS Training Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The CERFP is able to deliver teams that specialize in search and extraction operations, mass casualty and technical decontaminations, fatality search and recovery, incident management and medical triage and treatment. Additionally, the Fort Pickett-based 34th Civil Support Team earned an overall assessment of “Fully Mission Capable” and was validated in 12 collective tasks following a Training Performance Evaluation in June. The evaluation, proctored by U.S. Army North’s Civil Support Readiness Group – East, validated the unit’s core training programs and certified that the unit is fully capable of providing support to first responders.

For multiple Virginia Army and Air National Guard units training took place outside the state with with active duty units and Guard and Reserve forces from other states.

In late January through early February, more than 200 Airmen from the 192nd and 1st Fighter Wing Maintenance and Operations Groups participated in the 40th anniversary of the Red Flag combat training exercise  at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Red Flag, an annual exercise, brings together assets from the United Kingdom, Australia and multiple branches of the U.S. military to train together and enhance the capabilities of a coalition response to global threats as a united front.

Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard’s Fairfax-based Data Processing Unit joined more than 350 Soldiers, Airmen and civilians from 42 states for the 2015 Cyber Shield Exercise in March at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. This exercise focused on training and developing National Guard cyber capabilities, and Virginia Soldiers provided the opposing force, or OPFOR, as well as exercise participants.

From March to June, Airmen from the Virginia Beach-based 203rd RED HORSE Squadron served rotations on a joint tasking to Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, providing construction support, along with their sister unit, the 202nd RED HORSE Squadron based out of Camp Blanding, Florida. The focus of the mission for the RED HORSE Squadrons was to erect a 7,500 square foot facility for the Pacific Air Force, which will be used for Facilities Systems Training.

In May, Soldiers of the Virginia National Guard’s Gate City-based 1030th Transportation Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group, traveled to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, to conduct annual training. During its annual training the 1030th assumed command and control of five units from both the active and reserve component, including the Gate City-based 1032nd Transportation Company. The battalion provided logistical support and served as the Echelons Above Brigade combat sustainment support battalion enabler to the Hawaii-based 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division during the Decisive Action Training Environment rotation at JRTC.

In the largest movement of brigade assets since World War II, more than 1,600 Soldiers of the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and more than 1,000 pieces of heavy equipment traveled to Fort Drum, New York,in June. The Staunton-based 116th IBCT Headquarters and five of its battalions made the long haul to participate in the first Multi-echelon Integrated Brigade Training run by First Army Division East.

Nearly 60 Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard’s Cedar Bluff-based 1033rd Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command conducted their two-week annual training in September at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, where they conducted a variety of different engineer projects.

More than 95 Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Hampton-based Battery B, 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team conducted annual training in late October and early November at Fort Polk, Louisiana, along with Soldiers from Headquarters Battery, 111th Field Artillery Regiment, and Company G, 429th Brigade Support Battalion. During the three weeks of training, they simulated an opposing force for an active duty brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division conducting Joint Readiness Training Center Rotation 16-02.

In November, more than 400 Maryland and Virginia Army National Guard Soldiers from the 29th Infantry Division joined with National Guard and active duty Soldiers from around the country, as well as active duty and Air National Guardsmen, for a nine-day warfighter exercise  at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. The division-level warfighter exercise, Warfighter 16-2, was designed to develop, train, and exercise the warfighting functions of the 29th ID. It tested the division’s ability to coordinate a simulated battle with command and control of six brigades and more than 20,000 personnel.

The Virginia National Guard made progress in growing new capabilities and expanding facilities in key locations in the state. The 192nd Fighter Wing will stand up a new cyber operations squadron at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia. Virginia was one of just four states selected to stand up cyber operations squadrons by the Department of Defense. Additionally, the Virginia National Guard secured the site of the former Botetourt Correctional Center to establish a readiness center in the Roanoke area, and it also began the design phase of a new 102,000 square foot state headquarters facility to be built on a 13.6-acre site in the northern section of Defense Supply Center Richmond in Chesterfield County. The new headquarters will cost approximately $30 million and construction should be completed by February 2018. It will provide workspace for the Adjutant General of Virginia, the Virginia National Guard Joint Staff and Air National Guard Staff currently located at Mullins Readiness Center in Sandston.

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