VDF exercises plans, procedures for large-scale missions

Va. Defense Force conducts collective communications exercise

Members of the Virginia Defense Force conduct a communications exercise Nov. 8, 2014, in Winchester, Va. The VDF’s first-ever collective communications exercise involved units at various home station readiness centers throughout Virginia and focused on exercising all of the organization’s organic communications capabilities, including fixed and mobile high-frequency radios, tactical satellite communications systems and the Statewide Agencies Radio System, or STARS. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

SANDSTON, Va – The Virginia Defense Force tested communications capabilities and simulated a massive hurricane response Nov. 8, 2014, when more than 200 VDF members from around the state conducted a full-scale, collective communications exercise. Operating at the Virginia National Guard Joint Operations Center in Sandston and at regimental headquarters in Winchester, Lynchburg, Manassas, Gate City and Camp Pendleton as well company locations, the VDF established a voice and data communications network that crisscrossed the entire state.

The exercise involved units at various home station readiness centers throughout Virginia and focused on exercising all of the organization’s organic communications capabilities, including fixed and mobile high-frequency radios, tactical satellite communications systems and the Statewide Agencies Radio System, or STARS.

“This gives our leaders the opportunity to validate the operational readiness of their equipment and personnel training,” said Brig. Gen. (Va.) Justin Carlitti, commander of the VDF. “It’s about people actually working the gear.”

The primary mission of the Virginia Defense Force is to provide the Department of Military Affairs command, control and communications augmentation, Carlitti explained. He said that instead of having all VDF units converge at Fort Pickett as they have in previous exercises, he wanted everyone to test their equipment at their home station readiness centers to evaluate their ability to communicate across the state.

The morning was dedicated to creating a command and control network in order to conduct a hurricane response scenario exercise in the afternoon.

The VDF operated their four mobile command post trailers with communications capabilities over several different types of communication networks including digital and analog high frequency radio, as well as Incident Management Assistance Teams. The headquarters section operated from the Sandston-based Virginia National Guard Joint Operations Center to coordinate the exercise and to collect and transmit information.

“We’re training to test to our fullest capability, all of our communications equipment.” Sgt. Julie Wine, lead noncommissioned officer of one of the VDF’s JOC Augmentation Teams. “It’s important because we have to achieve and maintain our communications capability. The only way that businesses can be effective is through constant communications—if you don’t have communications, you don’t have anything!”

“We’re training to test to our fullest capability, all of our communications equipment.” Sgt. Julie Wine, lead noncommissioned officer of one of the VDF’s JOC Augmentation Teams. “It’s important because we have to achieve and maintain our communications capability. The only way that businesses can be effective is through constant communications—if you don’t have communications, you don’t have anything!” (Photo by Capt. Andrew J. Czaplicki, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

“We’re training to test to our fullest capability, all of our communications equipment.” Sgt. (Va.) Julie Wine, lead noncommissioned officer of one of the VDF’s JOC Augmentation Teams. “It’s important because we have to achieve and maintain our communications capability. The only way that businesses can be effective is through constant communications—if you don’t have communications, you don’t have anything!”The IMATs operate the mobile Tactical Command Packages, or TAC-PAKs, with wireless internet and satellite phone capabilities and were communicating with the JOC to provide status reports and incident updates.

With the voice and data capabilities provided by the VDF, accountability information was quickly transmitted back to the JOC. The test of the communications capability was also part of the Guard quarterly test of different communication resources used during emergency response operations.

“We are building the communications foundation this morning, then this afternoon we will execute the operational scenario,” Carlitti said. “Without the communications, you can’t execute the scenario.”

During their monthly drills, IMAT personnel exercise the TAC-PAKs in order to make sure they function properly and are ready for service in a state active duty situation.

“This is the first-time since the VDF was established in 1985, that we’ve ever done this kind of exercise where we have all of our assets up and everyone is communication across the spectrum; the TAC-PAKs, the HF radios, the MCP’s and the STARS radios” said Lt. Col. (Va.) Stewart Bentley, incoming operations officer, Virginia Defense Force. “Everyone is on duty and everyone is communicating.”

“In the past, we had always focused on individual and team training and this is the first time we’ve tested all of the communications packages assigned to us,” Bentley said. “VDF’s participation during state activation normally is pretty limited, where we control one or two teams, this activation tests the capabilities of all of our teams, so what this proves is our ability to respond to a state-wide call up.”

State-wide, VDF units established their communications systems and communicated with their respective regimental headquarters. Missions were tasked through the production of Operations Orders, or OPORDs, and Fragmentary Orders, or FRAGOs, by the VDF’s exercise controller and operations section in Sandston, Va.

Units received a variety simulated missions related to a hurricane response, including: traffic control, escort and transportation and communication augmentation. Leaders at each echelon were required to conduct a mission analysis to determine how they could complete each task. Once plans were made, the subordinate units communicated to the JOC all personnel and equipment assignments, estimated times of departure and arrival, route information and anticipated mission length, as well as any other additional resources required.

Members of the Virginia Defense Force conduct a communications exercise Nov. 8, 2014, in Sandston, Va. The VDF's first-ever collective communications exercise involved units at various home station readiness centers throughout Virginia and focused on exercising all of the organization's organic communications capabilities, including fixed and mobile high-frequency radios, tactical satellite communications systems and the Statewide Agencies Radio System, or STARS. VDF members also trained on communicating with the all four VDF regiments located in Winchester, Lynchburg, Manassas and Camp Pendleton and their subordinate companies. Additionally, company-sized units installed and tested their communications systems and integrated themselves into the VDF's overarching communications platform. 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. Members of the VDF volunteer their time during monthly drill periods, but are paid when called to state active duty by the Governor of Virginia. (Photo by Capt. Andrew J. Czaplicki, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Members of the Virginia Defense Force conduct a communications exercise Nov. 8, 2014, in Sandston, Va. The VDF’s first-ever collective communications exercise involved units at various home station readiness centers throughout Virginia and focused on exercising all of the organization’s organic communications capabilities, including fixed and mobile high-frequency radios, tactical satellite communications systems and the Statewide Agencies Radio System, or STARS. (Photo by Capt. Andrew J. Czaplicki, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

The JOC Augmentation Teams gathered the mission information and created a common operating picture using internally created documentation that provided the staff and the commanding general a snapshot of the VDF at any given moment.“We developed a series of processes and procedures based on our previous experiences with state activation and other community support events to determine what we track,” explained Col. (Va.) Gary Butler, outgoing operations officer, Virginia Defense Force. “This exercise is designed to test and validate those processes and to codify everything on paper, this allows us to publish standardized documentation on how we do business.”“We’re using all of the systems,” said Butler. “During an emergency, we don’t know what platform will work. If there is significant weather, satellites might not work, or if the phone lines are down, if there’s too much radio traffic across the net, we have to be flexible enough to adapt and fill the communications gap.”

“We are constantly looking for ways to improve our support to the Guard,” Butler said. “The HF radio is one of those ways and is a tool that is no longer an organic asset to the Guard, but works in almost every situation.”

“In the past, we’ve needed to set-up communications platforms to augment the Guard during snow and hurricane responses,” Butler said. “We deployed a battalion of VDF to Winchester during ‘Snowmageddon’ and set-up communications between the different Guard armories—it was how they communicated all the way through that response.”

After the exercise is complete, VDF leaders will review the after action reviews to identify any gaps in training or equipment, then move forward to address any gaps they find, Carlitti said.

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. Members of the VDF volunteer their time during monthly drill periods, but are paid when called to state active duty by the Governor of Virginia.

“I think this success of this exercise really validates what we’ve been doing for the past 29 years and shows the strength and professionalism of our volunteers,” Bentley said.

View and download photos here.