January 22, 2009

Saving lives purpose of JTF 29 and Operation Valiant Shepherd

29th Infantry Division Public Affairs

  JTF 29

Lt. Col. John Epperly (r) briefs Maj. Gen. Grant Hayden (l), JTF-29 commander, and Maj. Gen. Robert Newman (c), the Adjutant General of the Virginia National Guard, about the operations conducted and monitored by JTF-29 during Operation Valiant Shepherd in support of the 2009 Presidential Inauguration. (Photo by 29th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

FORT BELVOIR, Va. — “JTF-29’s mission will be to ‘save lives now,’ if we’re called,” said Lt. Col. John Epperly of Operation Valiant Shepherd. Epperly is the chief operations officer of the 29th Infantry Division of the Virginia National Guard.

Being prepared to “save lives now,” is the reason Joint Task Force 29, a collection of National Guard units from 16 states, mobilized into forward-support positions prior to the 56th Presidential Inauguration Jan. 20.  JTF-29 represents the latest transformation of National Guard assets in its 372 year history.

“To ensure a safe and secure inauguration, we have worked in concert with authorities from the National Capital Region, the governors of Maryland and Virginia, and the mayor of Washington, D.C., working through Emergency Management Assistance Compacts with all the supporting states,” said Epperly. “We’ve based it on the lessons learned in Hurricane Katrina, when both the states of Mississippi and Louisiana had very large percentages of their National Guard troops deployed overseas on combat missions and help from around the region was needed. The 38th Division of the Indiana National Guard went to Mississippi and the 36th Division from Texas went to help in Louisiana.”

Past regional responses to events have been ad hoc but the attacks of 9-11 and the natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina pointed to the need for a more thoughtful approach to preparing for catastrophic events. EMACs leverage state, local, and national assets in a disaster and have been around for more than 10 years. Operation Valiant Shepherd is the latest development in planning and preparing for contingencies that might affect critical events by providing command and control of pre-positioned assets for a conditioned response in JTF-29’s first real world mission.

To prepare for its role as a joint task force with regional responsibilities, the 29th Infantry Division has been actively training for more than two years. Its exercises include participation in Vital Guardian in 2006, exercises Hurricane Howard and Vigilant Guard in 2007, and staff exercises during the 29th ID’s annual training last year. A recent overseas simulation exercise in Japan, Yama Sakura 55, reinforced the 29th ID’s ability to assist civil authorities and friendly forces in a contingent military mission.

During this time the 29th ID also trained and deployed troops for Task Force Falcon as the command element to the Kosovo mission and combat elements to support Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.

“This is our first real-world mission but establishing this joint task force is not really a ‘new’ concept,” Epperly said. “But we look at this joint task force from a different viewpoint. 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina gave us a new perspective on the threat assessment for the National Capital Region. We determined that we needed a rapidly scaleable response in the wake of a significant incident. This task force provides us the flexibility to package our response to meet the size of any support requirement.”

“Ours is a stability-support role,” Epperly continued, “which means our responsibility is to support crowd control, traffic management, security, and humanitarian relief efforts as needed. The basics for this type support are the same whether the mission is wartime or DSCA (Defense Support to Civil Authorities). It’s about logistics and people. The modular headquarters concept allows us to train for both environments.”

“For years there has been the argument that if you were training for war, then you couldn’t be training for a DSCA mission,” Epperly said. “This mission is validation that you can do both.”

“You cannot replicate reality. This real world mission has a size and a sense of urgency, a focus that cannot be replicated in training. Our exercises have set the conditions and changed the mindset and we now have leaders experienced in both the war time and DSCA environments in training and the real world.”

“I want to thank you for the job you’re doing here,” Maj. Gen. Robert B. Newman, Adjutant General of the Virginia National Guard, during a briefing at the JTF-29 Joint Operations Center. “Your operation has visibility at all echelons and you are leapfrogging this concept as the way ahead for the National Guard and the nation.”

“You have done an outstanding job,” remarked Maj. Gen. Grant Hayden, JTF-29 commander at the closing of Operation Valiant Shepherd. “I am proud to serve with each and every one of you.”

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