Jan. 26, 2010

Virginia Guard Soldiers assist with search for Appomattox gunmen

By Maj. Cotton Puryear
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

SANDSTON, Va. — Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard assisted state and local law enforcement officials in the search for a 39-year-old gunman wanted in the deaths of eight people in Appomattox Jan. 19. Using an OH-58 helicopter with thermal imaging equipment, Soldiers from the Sandston-based Detachment A, 2nd Battalion, 151st Security and Support Battalion and the Virginia National Guard Counter-Drug program assisted with search operations until the gunman surrendered.

 

Soldiers from Detachment A, 2nd Battalion, 151st Security and Support Battalion and the Virginia National Guard Counter-Drug program assisted state and local law enforcement officials in the search for a 39-year-old gunman wanted in the deaths of eight people in Appomattox Jan. 19. (Photo courtesy of the Virginia Guard Counter Drug Program)

"The aviation support provided by the Virginia National Guard was most helpful in not only the management of the law-enforcement security perimeter, but also for the protection of our troopers, officers and deputies on the ground," said Colonel W. Steven Flaherty, Virginia State Police Superintendent. "This collaborative operation truly underscores the importance of partnering the Commonwealth's available resources in a major incident."

The gunman disabled the Virginia State Police helicopter supporting the law enforcement response, and the Virginia National Guard received a request to provide interim aviation support to law enforcement while additional law enforcement aviation assets were moved to the scene, explained Maj. Charlton T. Dunn, the Virginia National Guard Counter-Drug Coordinator.

“Shortly after receiving the request, an OH-58 helicopter equipped with Forward Looking Infra-Red optics was on site supporting law enforcement personnel,” Dunn said. “Concurrently, a Virginia National Guard Counter-Drug ground team was in place providing real time video downlink of the aircraft’s imagery to law enforcement personnel on the scene. The presence of the Virginia National Guard helicopter limited the movement of the gunman while law enforcement tightened their perimeter, and the suspect surrendered on the morning of January 20, 2010. The National Guard support is attributed with preventing flight of the gunman and significantly contributing to the safe apprehension of the gunman.”

Dunn provided on-site liaison to law enforcement personnel and noted the mission was a success due to the efforts of all members of the team. Staff Sgt. James Watson, the helicopter crew chief, was critical to maintaining the high readiness rate of the aircraft for immediate launch, and 1st Sgt. Edwin Bonilla deployed with the helicopter as the crew chief to provide onsite maintenance for recovery of the aircraft ahead of approaching poor weather, Dunn said. 

 

Master Sgt. Edwin Bonilla of New Kent (left) and Chief Warrant Officer John Marsh of Mechanicsville (right) pose in front of the OH-58 helicopter with thermal imaging equipment that was used in the search for the gunman. (Photo courtesy of the Virginia Guard Counter Drug Program)

Chief Warrant Officer Wayne Martell, the Counter-Drug aviation officer in charge and detachment maintenance officer, quickly translated the mission tasking into action, navigating the complex planning requirements to quickly launch such a mission in a multi-agency environment, Dunn said. He also said that Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Lindley piloted the helicopter and demonstrated skill and determination in flying with night vision goggles for over four hours in a threat environment. Dunn credited Chief Warrant Officer John Marsh for demonstrating persistence and technical savvy as the pilot operating the Forward Looking Infra-Red optics for the duration of the mission. 

Sgt. 1st Class Brian Wright, the Counter-Drug operations noncommissioned officer, deployed by ground to set up the video downlink at the Virginia State Police 3rd Division HQ’s and forward at the tactical command post, Sgt. 1st Class David Waltman, a Counter-Drug criminal analyst assigned to a federal law enforcement agency, drove through the night to deliver hand held video downlink devices into the hands of the law enforcement tactical teams and provide them with training to operate them and Sgt 1st Class Spencer Vangils, the Counter-Drug criminal analyst assigned to the Commonwealth Fusion Center, assisted in identifying and developing information about the shooter, Dunn said. 

Special Agent Keith Kincaid of the Virginia State Police 3rd Division flew with the aircraft in the area of operations, Dunn said.  Kincaid is a trained spotter who flies frequently with Virginia National Guard aircraft on Counter-Drug missions and was indispensable in directing the aerial operation while maintaining communications with the Law Enforcement elements on the ground.

“The Virginia National Guard’s support of law enforcement in apprehending the Appomattox gunman demonstrated dedication, skill, and the ability to work successfully in an interagency environment thanks to the efforts of dedicated Soldiers and other Commonwealth guardians working as a team,” said Lt. Col. James Ring, Virginia National Guard state aviation officer.

The mission of the Detachment A, 2nd Battalion, 151st S&S Battalion is to perform air movement, aerial sustainment, search and rescue, command and control, and reconnaissance / observation in support of homeland security, counter-drug operations and other operations as approved by the office of the Secretary of Defense. The battalion provides a geographically dispersed readily available light utility aviation capability for federal or state authorities and combatant commanders. 

The Virginia National Guard Counter-Drug program places Guardsmen in the community conducting Drug Demand Reduction classes for schools and civic organizations, supporting law enforcement agencies with criminal analysts and technical support, providing prevention, treatment and outreach services to Guardsmen, managing the Joint Substance Abuse Program, and providing aviation support to law enforcement agencies.     

The Virginia Counter-Drug program provides funds to the S&S Battalion to keep three pilots and two crew chiefs on full time orders at a high state of readiness to provide support to counter-drug operations within the Commonwealth. 

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