Va. Defense Force conducts multi-state communication exercise

Members of the Virginia Defense Force's Winchester-based 3rd Regiment use the high frequency radios in their Mobile Command Post to conduct a multi-state communications exercise July 18, 2015, in Madison, Va.  (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

Members of the Virginia Defense Force’s Winchester-based 3rd Regiment use the high frequency radios in their Mobile Communication Platform to conduct a multi-state communications exercise July 18, 2015, in Madison, Va. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

MADISON, Va. — Members of the Virginia Defense Force’s Winchester-based 3rd Regiment and Lynchburg-based 4th Regiment used the high frequency radios in their Mobile Communication Platforms to conduct a multi-state communications exercise July 18, 2015. During the exercise, they successfully communicated via strong signal connections with state guard forces in Indiana and Tennessee and established weak connections with California.

The exercise was designed to test the VDF’s ability to communicate if there was an incident that degraded systems like mobile phone networks. Providing interoperable communications is one of the many different missions sets the VDF provides as the all-volunteer auxiliary to the Virginia National Guard.

VDF members from 3rd Regiment also assisted the Madison County Sheriff and Parks and Recreation Department with access control at the Madison County Fair.

The communication exercise was one of the many recent efforts by members of the VDF to test and train on their interoperable communications capabilities.

VDF members participated in the 2015 American Radio Relay League Field Day for the first time June 27 and 28 at multiple locations across Virginia. The ARRL, a non-profit national association representing the amateur radio community, sponsors its annual “field day” in late June for licensed operators across the United States and Canada.

“This venue provided the amateur radio community an opportunity to exercise emergency communication response skills and capabilities under less than optimal conditions from remote and austere sites,” said Brig. Gen. (Va.) Justin Carlitti, commander of the Virginia Defense Force.

Members of the VDF’s Winchester-based 3rd Regiment and the Lynchburg-based 4th Regiment deployed their Mobile Communication Platforms from their home stations to various field sites. The VDF MCPs were deployed in various operational configurations using a variety of antennas to support short distances of a few hundred miles and and long-haul communication paths that covered thousands of miles. The VDF stations initiated contact on predetermined High Frequency radio channels with each other to validate operational status.

“With many of the VDF personnel being FCC-licensed amateur radio operators, they then tuned to authorized amateur HF frequencies to establish voice and data contact with other radio stations in the commonwealth and across the nation to include reaching Hawaii,” Carlitti said. “This allowed VDF communications personnel to test their proficiency in exercising long-haul radio links, particularly under variable weather and radio propagation conditions. Under the supervision of these licensed VDF personnel, non-licensed VDF personnel were also able to learn new techniques in maximizing the capabilities of VDF radio assets.”

Joining the VDF at these various field sites were other radio enthusiasts, local emergency management officials, first responders, and even Boy Scouts learning radio fundamentals, Carlitti said.

“VDF members proudly displayed their radio equipment and antenna arrays,” he said. “In the process, their passion for community service and radio communications was shared with the other Field Day participants. Whether VDF personnel or licensed amateurs operators, both train to provide life-saving communications when primary paths are either severely degraded or no longer available.”

The VDF will participate in the next major AARL training event in October 2015 when it supports the national-level Simulated Emergency Test (SET) to evaluate strengths and weaknesses in emergency preparedness and communications with local communities.

Earlier in June, the 3rd Regiment’s MCP stationed at the Cherry-Beasley Readiness Center in Winchester successfully made inaugural contact with the SHAred RESources, or SHARES, High Frequency Radio Network. The SHARES HF Radio Network, administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, provides an additional means for Federal, State, tribal, local and non-governmental organizations with an emergency management mission to transmit critical messages to coordinate operations even when traditional means of communicating via landlines and cellphones are degraded or destroyed.

With this inaugural contact, the VDF will now participate in monthly SHARES net calls and exercises. The VDF will also continue to expand it operational range on SHARES by adding new digital methods of communication.

Carlitti said this was the VDF’s first-ever voice contact with the FEMA Region III SHARES radio net control station, and the VDF is the first state defense force to join this network of more than 1,400 HF radio stations representing over 100 Federal, State and non-governmental organizations located in all states, the District of Columbia and overseas.

“The VDF, via its fixed and mobile HF stations, now adds this voice capability as a complement to its data mode, the ability to pass email messages via the HF radio-to-INTERNET gateways provided as part of the Department of Defense’s Military Auxiliary Radio Systems infrastructure,” Carlitti said. “Both of these organic VDF capabilities provide the Virginia Department of Military Affairs with additional modes of operation in responding to a variety of emergency response scenarios.”

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. The members of the VDF volunteer their time for training and are only paid when called to state active duty by an authorization from the Governor of Virginia.