First group of Virginia National Guard Soldiers departs for U.S. Virgin Islands

The first group of Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team depart for the U.S Virgin Islands Sept. 24, 2017, from Blackstone Army Airfield in Blackstone, Virginia, to join a multi-state, multi-agency response effort after recent hurricanes battered the region.  (U.S. National Guard photo by Cotton Puryear)

BLACKSTONE, Va. — The first group of Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team departed for the U.S Virgin Islands Sept. 24, 2017, from Blackstone Army Airfield in Blackstone, Virginia, to join a multi-state, multi-agency response effort to recent hurricanes. The Soldiers will serve as a mission command headquarters and synchronize all National Guard operations assisting with recovery effort, and additional Soldiers from multiple units from across the commonwealth will continue to deploy in the coming days to provide additional assistance.

“I am incredibly proud of how quickly and safely the Soldiers of the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team have come together in order to get much-needed assistance to the U.S. Virgin Islands, and that pride is amplified by the fact that these Soldiers volunteered to go,” said Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia. “This has been an extremely complex operation that required the skills and experience from Army and Air Guard personnel from across the state, and a magnificent team effort has pulled together the people and equipment we need to do the mission. In many ways, the most important members of the team that makes all this work are our families and employers. Our Soldiers have left their jobs and their loved ones on very short notice to undertake a noble cause, and they couldn’t do that without the critical support at home and at work. I want to extend a very special thanks for their continued support that is so important to what we do.”

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe authorized the Virginia National Guard support Sept. 22 to join other state organizations providing assistance in the region.

Advance teams from the 116th have been on the ground since Sept. 18 working with the Virgin Islands National Guard in determining what capabilities are needed and where they need to go. About 50 Soldiers departed Sunday, and another 350 Soldiers from multiple Virginia National Guard units from across the commonwealth and the remaining 50 Soldiers from the brigade headquarters are scheduled to depart in the next few days.

“I feel privileged to be part of the mission going in to help the citizens of the Virgin Islands,” said Lt. Col. Jared Lake, executive officer for the 116th IBCT who departed with the first group. “It is not often that you get the opportunity to do a humanitarian service mission, and everyone is motivated to get there and start helping the Virgin Islands with their recovery.”

Based on the current conditions, Lake said the Virginia Soldiers will most likely be distributing food, water and other supplies, helping clear debris and providing security.

Soldiers assigned to 116th IBCT units stationed in Hamptons Roads, Northern Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley and the Lynchburg / Roanoke area are taking part in the mission. Soldiers from nearly every other major command in the Virginia National Guard are also providing personnel including the Fort Belvoir-based 29th Infantry Division, the Virginia Beach-based 329th Regional Support Group, the Bowling Green-base 91st Cyber Brigade, the Fort Pickett-based Medical Command, the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment as well as Joint Force Headquarters-Virginia and Virginia Air National Guard.

Going into a area that has damaged infrastructure and short on supplies created a significant logistics challenge with the 116th needing to take everything it would need to conduct operations, Lake explained. Basic needs like food and water had to be packed, as well as computers, maps, overlay material, tables, chairs, generators and tents to conduct mission command. They also had to prepare vehicles and equipment for the support mission as well as taking repair parts and other maintenance items.

Soldiers started preparing vehicles and equipment for air transport Friday and worked late into the night on Saturday to make sure everything was ready to fly, Lake said. An air transportation craftsman from the Virginia Air National Guard’s 203rd RED HORSE Squadron helped unit movement personnel conduct final technical inspections on all the vehicles and pallets for shipment.

On Sunday, Air National Guard crews from the New York and Kentucky National Guard flying C-130 transport aircraft arrived to transport all the Soldiers and equipment to begin the mission.

The National Guard is responding to Hurricane Maria’s devastation with more than 1,600 Soldiers and Airmen. Priorities for the Guard are moving food and water to those in need, augmenting local law enforcement to ensure community safety and engineer support to help rebuild essential infrastructure.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, the National Guard has reopened St. Croix’s airfield to receive critical resupply and is facilitating reopening of sea ports as well. We are also clearing and repairing roads, manning and securing distribution points and shelters, and providing power generators to support critical infrastructure.

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Photos of Soldiers packing for support mission to U.S. Virgin Islands on Flickr and the 116th IBCT Facebook page:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/vaguardpao/sets/72157686559135800
https://www.facebook.com/pg/116thIBCT/photos/?tab=album&album_id=10155824790746474

Raw video of Soldiers packing for support mission to U.S. Virgin Islands on the Va. National Guard Facebook page, YouTube and Dropbox:
https://www.facebook.com/VaNationalGuard/videos/10155695841898560/
https://youtu.be/kS8j0EJehPI
https://www.dropbox.com/s/oqjj7xfer1iokvn/116thIBCT_USVI_PackUp_23sep17_720p.mov?dl=0

Photos of Soldiers departing for U.S. Virgin Islands on Flickr and the 116th IBCT Facebook page:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/vaguardpao/sets/72157689578433925
https://www.facebook.com/pg/116thIBCT/photos/?tab=album&album_id=10155824820036474

Raw video of Soldiers departing for U.S. Virgin Islands on the Va. National Guard Facebook page, YouTube and Dropbox:
https://www.facebook.com/VaNationalGuard/videos/10155695856578560/
https://youtu.be/b9XrEraYtBE
https://www.dropbox.com/s/n81zwca569octlu/116thIBCT_USVI_Loudout_24sep17_720p.mov?dl=0