January 26, 2009

JTF-29, Operation Valiant Shepherd demonstrate the accomplishments of a “can do” attitude

By 1st Lt. Eliana York
29th Infantry Division Public Affairs


Soldiers from the 29th Infantry Division monitor events in the Washington, D.C., area during Operation Valiant Shepherd. (Photo by Capt. Lisa Browne, 29th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

FORT BELVOIR, Va. — In support and protection during the 56th Presidential Inauguration, the Guard's largest contribution to an inauguration in its 372-year history.

The JTF-29 mobilized units from 16 states into forward-support positions in record time, and put to fruition the training acquired during recent years. JTF-29 refined its previously established role by adding increasing levels of requirements; the accrued experience and dedication to duty allowed it to properly plan and prepare for any incidents or contingencies that might have affected the inauguration events. 

But how did the 29th Infantry Division manage to accomplish a polished and optimal performance with a minimum notification and with such a great amount of responsibilities at a national level? It’s common knowledge that any complex operation taking place in similar scenarios would call for a logistical preparation phase of approximately three to six months. 

“The results are a direct testament to the quality of the Soldiers of the 29th ID and the leadership of Division Headquarters to embrace the mission, to work hard and pull together every single detail,” said Lt. Col. John Wranek of Operation Valiant Shepherd. Wranek is the commanding officer of the Special Troops Battalion, 29th Infantry Division of the Virginia National Guard.

Assigned to oversee the Joint Reception, Staging, and Onward Integration, Wranek praised Maj. Daniel Curry of the STB operations section, who set up one of the Intermediate Staging Bases at Fort A.P. Hill. Curry had the support of a first-rate team comprised of elements from the personnel, logistics, and communications sections, the Provost Marshal’s Office, the Public Affairs Office and various members of the STB. The team worked tirelessly to in-process, house and feed over 600 soldiers from the Task Forces Raptor and Enforcer, which included troops from Maryland, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Florida and Minnesota.

“It was a smooth operation all the way around. For the STB, it was definitely an opportunity to come together as a staff and exercise our role in supporting the division headquarters in a real-world operation,” Wranek said. “It set the stage for the preparation needed to succeed in the upcoming Panamex exercise. The experience was exceptional and it greatly enhanced the tactical planning and the Command and Control abilities of the Division.”

Curry added emphatically “the operation was very well run and the “can do” attitude” made it all possible. “It was an outstanding experience, a great effort from the top down, from the planners to the non-commissioned officers to the Soldiers executing directives,” he said. “There was situational awareness and a great amount of initiative, not to mention an incredible amount of civilian support.”
“The experience alone, the team building effort in a real world scenario, the willingness to accomplish the mission and the dedication of all involved made the operation a success and it was a great honor to be part of” said Curry.

Wranek also praised the parallel efforts conducted at the Edgewood ISB in Maryland, where Capt. Robert Fenton, commander of headquarters company, 29th ID made all necessary coordination to logistically support the personnel from Task Force Thrasher, which counted in excess of 400 personnel.

The JTF-29 managed an outstanding coordination of personnel and material support, not to mention a smooth communication flow across a variety of obstacles represented by the presence of different units on the ground with different support equipment and network domains, and a variety of IT challenges.  

Lt. Col. Darryl Winston of the communications section echoed by saying: “the most challenging factor was to develop a hasty plan in such a short time frame, since the notification to be on standby was received by Jan. 5. The G6 section reacted swiftly to identify the mission requirements and expectations in order to develop the correct signal estimates. We coordinated with the National Capital Region and the District of Columbia through a plan to support the mission with all telecommunication needs, to include computers, laptops, telephones and satellite equipment.”
The G6 section blended skillful expertise and tireless efforts to identify technical resources on hand and to locate vital equipment necessary to achieve the final results.

“We developed a plan based on intelligence which allowed for the gathering of an initial 70% effort which quickly developed into a 95% solution. It was a successful experience at a historical moment; everyone came together on very short notice to provide support for ultimate mission success,” added Winston.

Lt. Col. James Pridgen of the logistics section identified his section’s main challenge in locating facilities to house and feed soldiers and store equipment for all incoming units as the original mobilization plan called for up to 30,000 Soldiers from 10 to 16 states.

“The learning curve was fantastic, our section gained invaluable experience to manage the incoming troops. Although the original numbers were scaled down, the real world experience accrued while requesting and coordinating logistical support gave us a pretty good idea of what real world scenarios call for,” said Pridgen.

As the actual plan ended up requiring accommodations for roughly only 1,000 personnel, Pridgen praised the willingness of individuals to come onboard and support the mission and  JTF-29’s ability to coordinate support through multiple agencies to get things done.

The chorus of praises for JTF-29 personnel‘s “can do attitude” extended to all sections, and it represents the key to the flawless performance and the outstanding results accomplished in such a short notice mobilization. Sgt. Maj. Regina Webb, the chief of human resources of the 29th ID, praised the ability to come together and the collective dedication to duty. She added, “I’m confident that with the experience acquired, the 29th ID would again have a tremendous success with any future challenges in a real world scenario.”

Ultimately, JTF-29 was able to achieve an optimal duality of roles while preparing for wartime mission and at the same time, for Defense Support to Civil Authorities. It displayed its ability and readiness to tailor a flexible response to properly accommodate a variable request to support -in this case- to an event of historical proportions. The 29th ID soldiers provided invaluable support to welcome the new President and Commander in Chief, with minimum notice and maximum results. And that alone, is a monumental accomplishment.

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