Final group of Va. Soldiers return from U.S. Virgin Islands

Senior leaders from state government and the Virginia National Guard welcome home the final group of Soldiers assigned to the Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team returning from U.S. Virgin Islands hurricane recovery duty Oct. 17, 2017, in Richmond, Virginia.  (U.S. National Guard photo by Cotton Puryear)

RICHMOND, Va. — Senior leaders from state government and the Virginia National Guard welcomed home the final group of Soldiers assigned to the Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team as they returned from hurricane recovery duty in the U.S. Virgin Islands Oct. 17, 2017, in Richmond, Virginia. The Soldiers provided mission command for the joint task force that consisted of just over 1,300 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen from 25 states and Washington, D.C. supporting the U.S. Virgin Islands government and Virgin Islands National Guard.

The JTF had two core missions of supplying and managing points of distribution and providing assistance to law enforcement in traffic control, fixed site security and basic policing. From Sept. 27 to Oct. 15, points of distribution provided citizens with more than 19,700 cases of water, nearly 25,000 meals and more than 8,000 tarps. The Nebraska National Guard’s 67th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade assumed the mission command role from the 116th.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran, Brig. Gen. Paul Griffin, Virginia National Guard Director of the Joint Staff, Brig. Gen. Walter L. Mercer, Assistant Adjutant General-Army, and Col. James W. Ring, Virginia Army National Guard Chief of Staff, greeted Soldiers at the airport and thanked them for their service.

“I want to impress upon everyone the resilience and professionalism of the men and women of the U.S. Virgin Islands Army and Air National Guard,” said Col. Scott Smith, commander of Joint Task Force Stonewall. “These Soldiers and Airmen worked endless hours until our supporting National Guard States’ Soldiers and Airmen began to arrive on the islands. Joint Task Force Stonewall was humbled by their efforts and we are proud to be in the U.S. Virgin Islands helping our fellow National Guard members accomplish the task at hand.”

Smith explained that the Soldiers and Airmen of the JTF provided assistance to and worked with the U.S. Virgin Islands National Guard and the local government to include the U.S. Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to improve conditions and relieve suffering across the islands of St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas.

“Every member of JTF Stonewall played a critical role in improving the conditions in the U.S. Virgin Islands and assisted the territory in returning to a state of normalcy,” Smith said.

Soldiers assigned to the Virginia Army National Guard’s 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry Regiment and 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment worked on manage points of distribution. These Soldiers assumed the mission from the U.S. Virgin Islands National Guard, and the operations consisted of supplying FEMA-provided meals, water and tarps at key locations on the islands of St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas.

“This is a very rewarding mission as our Soldiers are able to interact with the citizens of the U.S. Virgin Islands,” Smith said. “These Soldiers are humbled every day as they observe firsthand the resilience and good nature of the people living on the islands.”

Law enforcement activities fell on military police from the Tennessee Guard’s 117th MP Battalion and 252nd MP Company, New York’s 105th MP Company and Kentucky’s 940th MP Company. These Soldiers are assigned to a U.S. Virgin Islands Police Department officer and conducted 24-hour operations primarily on the islands of St. Croix and St. Thomas.

The task of directing and synchronizing the efforts of JTF Stonewall fell on the Virginia Army National Guard’s 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. This group consisted of approximately 120 Army National Guard Soldiers who worked directly with the U.S. Virgin Islands Adjutant General, Brig. Gen. Deborah Howell, and her staff. The 116th IBCT provided mission command over all forces within JTF Stonewall and synchronized their efforts based on missions received through FEMA and VITEMA.

The JTF’s Aviation Task Force was composed of eight UH-60 Black Hawks and two HH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and crews from the Tennessee National Guard’s 1-230th Assault Helicopter Battalion and Missouri National Guard’s 135th Assault Helicopter Battalion.

“These service members provided one of our most critical personnel, supply and equipment movement capabilities,” Smith said.

This team provided three round-trip flights between St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas daily and supported other air mission requests as needed in support of disaster relief and emergency management activities. The Vermont National Guard’s 3-126th Medical Evacuation provided the critical capability of aerial medical evacuation across the islands in the event of serious injury. The entire Aviation Task Force provided support to Vice President Pence’s visit Oct. 6 by lending manpower and hangar space for a press conference hosted at the aviation base of operations.

Multiple units from the Air National Guard facilitated airfield operations on St. Croix and St. Thomas. Units supporting the mission included Arkansas’ 189th Civil Engineer Squadron and Force Support Squadron; Arizona’s 161st Air Refueling Wing, 162nd Fighter Wing, and 161st Security Force Squadron; Kansas’ 184th Logistics Readiness Squadron; Kentucky’s 123rd Airlift Wing; Missouri’s 139th Airlift Wing, Mississippi’s 248th Air Traffic Control Squadron and 172nd Airlift Wing; North Carolina’s 145th Civil Engineer Squadron; New York’s 105th Base Defense Squadron and 107th Attack Wing; Rhode Island’s 143rd Logistics Readiness Squadron and Force Support Squadron; Washington’s 141st Security Forces Squadron and 116th Weather Flight, California’s 146th Air Lift Control Flight; New Hampshire’s 152nd Civil Engineer Squadron; New Jersey’s 177th Security Forces Squadron; Ohio’s 200th Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer and 269th Combat Communications Squadron.

These units provide airfield security, air traffic control for military aircraft, aircraft loading and unloading, weather operations, transient accommodations and security for National Guard Soldiers and Airmen arriving and departing the U.S. Virgin Islands, Smith said.

JTF Stonewall operations were supported by one of the National Guard’s finest sustainment units, the 298th Combat Service Support Battalion from the Mississippi Army National Guard.

“These Soldiers were critical to the success of our core missions,” Smith said.

The 298th CSSB moved all FEMA commodities from the St. Croix airport to a logistics staging area where POD forces drew supplies for each day’s operations. Additionally, the 298th CSSB integrated with the U.S. Virgin Islands maintenance teams and made great strides in improving the maintenance posture of the U.S. Virgin Islands National Guard wheeled vehicle fleet. Due to their combined efforts, the Soldiers supporting POD operations delivered more supplies and resupplied units more efficiently, Smith explained.

Army Medics from 116th IBCT operated a clinic on St. Croix, and a medical detachment from the Vermont Army National Guard’s 27th Operational Support Airlift Medical Detachment provided care for Soldiers and Airmen assigned to St. Croix and St. Thomas. The Vermont Medical Detachment provided medical services for all assigned JTF personnel, medical services to civilians at shelters and clinics on St. John and St. Thomas and additional medical support as needed to the aviation task force. In addition to basic care, the Oklahoma and Alabama National Guard also provided behavioral specialists for Soldiers and Airmen.

Ensuring all National Guard Soldiers and Airmen were properly received, housed and accounted for was the mission for the Virginia Army National Guard’s 329th Regional Support Group.

JTF Stonewall’s communication capability was enhanced by Joint Incident Site Communications Capability teams from Maine, Vermont, New York and the Utah National Guard. These teams managed systems that provided Internet and Voice Over Internet Protocol phones that support both the National Guard and Virgin Islands Emergency Management operations.

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