Va. Defense Force assisting with COVID-19 response

RICHMOND,  Va. — Nearly 20 members of the Virginia Defense Force are serving on state active duty in direct support of the Virginia National Guard and the Virginia Emergency Support Team as of April 7, 2020, assisting the state’s COVID-19 response. VDF personnel are assisting with mission tracking, planning, and public information support as well as operations and administrative support for the VDF itself. 

“As soon as Virginia declared a state of emergency, Virginia Defense Force personnel jumped in and went right to work to help mission planning in an incredibly challenging situation,” said Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia. “They truly are an integral part of the team, and we wouldn’t be as effective without them. They train hard and smart, but they also bring a wealth of experience from their civilian careers that is invaluable. We are so fortunate to have these dedicated volunteers who are willing to step up when the Commonwealth needs them most, and I thank them all for that they do and the contributions they make.”

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency March 12, 2020, that activated the VNG and VDF and authorized state active duty. A small group of VNG Soldiers and Airmen and VDF personnel immediately went on duty, and that number has now grown to about 300 personnel.

VDF personnel are helping remotely process requests for support in Emergency Support Function 16, the VNG’s response cell with the Virginia Emergency Operations Center, as well as tracking current operations. Normally ESF 16 is located in the physical VEOC location, but with social distancing guidelines in place, operations were shifted to remote locations soon after the declaration of emergency was made.

Lt. Col. Phil Smith, office in charge of the Regional Liasion Resource Team, supported in VEOC current operations initially on site, then remotely. He was directly responsible for guiding  integration of medical information into an easily updated visual display platform that now serves as the centerpiece data source which tracks the Commonwealth’s COVID statistics and VNG response efforts.

Additional personnel are remotely assisting the VEST with operations, logistics and medical planning as well as the planning with the proposed Alternative Care Facilities scheduled for construction by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In addition to the training VDF personnel conduct, they also bring a wealth of skills with them from their civilian careers.

Capt. (Va.) Roger Wilson serves in one of the VDF Regional Liaison Resource Teams, and he put his skills with GIS and mapping to use to help with developing maps for medical planning. He was able to develop maps that incorporated large amounts of data that are difficult to visualize on a spreadsheet — like where current hospital facilities are located — but present well on a map.

Warrant Officer 1 (Va.) Jake Crocker has spent nearly two decades working in advertising and marketing, and he has been providing public information support directly to the VNG. His photos reached more than 30,000 people on VNG social media, and he wrote the lead news article to the statewide bi-weekly newsletter.

The VDF is authorized by Title 44 of the Code of Virginia as the all-volunteer reserve of the Virginia National Guard, and they are a force multiplier and integrated into all VNG domestic response operations. 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. The VDF reports to the Adjutant General of Virginia as part of the Virginia Department of Military Affairs along with the Virginia Army National Guard and Virginia Air National Guard.

Members of the Virginia Defense Force assist the Virginia Department of Emergency Management with logistics planning March 17, 2020. (U.S. National Guard photo by Cotton Puryear)