Virginia National Guard displays capabilities to Va. lawmakers

Members of the Virginia Army National Guard, Virginia Air National Guard and Virginia Defense Force set up equipment displays outside the Virginia General Assembly Building to demonstrate some of the capabilities the Guard and VDF can provide while on state active duty. (Photo by Staff Sgt.Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

RICHMOND, Va. — Soldiers and Airmen of the Virginia National Guard, alongside members of the Virginia Defense Force gathered outside the Virginia General Assembly Building Jan. 18 with equipment displays to show some of the Guard’s capabilities to members of the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates. Inside the building, Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia, conducted a briefing with members of the General Assembly’s Guard Caucus to provide an overview of the Virginia Guard.

“It’s important that the delegates understand the capabilities that their Virginia National Guard brings to bear in the case of an emergency,” said Maj. Brett McCreight, full time Officer in Charge of the Chemical, Biological, Radiological Nuclear, High Yield Explosive, Emergency Response Force Package. “Being able to speak fluently about the capabilities and assets that the Virginia National Guard has allows them to make timely and accurate decisions about the things they want to do.”

Among the displays were Airmen from the 200th Weather Flight, Soldiers from the 34th Civil Support Team, Soldiers and Airmen from the CERF-P and Soldiers from the Virginia Counterdrug Program. The Soldiers and Airmen staffed a tent and several trucks as static displays to provide passersby with information on what their capabilities are in the event of an emergency. The members of the VDF showed off their mobile command post trailer, which can be utilized during a state-active duty situation.

“We were there to support the Adjutant General and to provide overall awareness of what the National Guard’s abilities are to support the commonwealth, especially in the event of a disaster,” said Chief Master Sgt. Stephen Gamache, 200th Weather Flight superintendent. “We had a lot of folks come by. We had General Assembly members come by; we had a lot of civilians who have business in the area. We also had a lot of visits from members of the V.F.W. and the American Legion.

“The best part was the civilians stopping by, saying ‘Hey what are you guys here for?’ and us showing them our gear and equipment,” said Gamache. “Lots of people came by. It was another one of those things the National Guard can do to reach out to the population and we got a lot of good press from the local media.”

While the Soldiers and Airmen provided information to the people passing by the displays outside, Long provided an information briefing to General Assembly members inside the building during a Guard Caucus breakfast. During the meeting, he outlined the capabilities of the Guard and referenced how the Guard has become the premier response capability in the state led by an integrated joint team that is ready and reliable, with relevant Joint Forces that are capable of conducting operations at home and abroad.

“We have had a really good year, but there are many challenges,” Long said. “Our focus is on our mission to provide trained and ready forces that are manned, equipped and trained to meet the needs of the commonwealth and the federal government, and I think we have met that and exceeded expectations in all areas.”

Long explained how the Guard has gone from a strategic reserve force to an operational reserve force over the last 10 years. “This is an organization of top performers,” Long said, and he credited the great work of people serving the Virginia Guard, both in and out of uniform, for the organization’s success.

“We serve shoulder to shoulder with the active duty forces, and you can’t tell the difference between Guardsmen that are deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan or other places around the world,” Long said. “We are no longer a strategic reserve that had minimal training, minimal resources and minimal expectations.”

The Guard is now better trained and equipped to provide a rapid response, Long said, and he stressed that is a top priority for the Virginia Guard. “You can be the best trained and best equipped force in the nation, but it doesn’t help if you show up late.”

As he looked ahead to the future the Guard, Long warned that declining resources are one of the biggest challenges the organization faces.

“We’re at a crossroads today, getting ready to slip back into a strategic reserve,” he said. He further warned that the Guard can’t lower expectations so it is unable to meet the high standards of mission readiness for both the state and federal mission the way the Guard does today.

Long also expressed his appreciation for the support of the General Assembly for what they have done for the Guard in past years and the proposed legislation for this year. In 2011, the General Assembly passed Gov. Bob McDonnell’s $6.9 million budget addition for facilities improvements, and the Virginia Guard has turned that into more than $24 million for improvements to include energy efficiency at facilities throughout the state with new lighting systems, new roofs and new windows as well as other projects around the state.