Sept. 10, 2006
By Maj. Gen. Robert B. Newman, Jr.
The one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina has generated many reviews of emergency preparedness in the Commonwealth, and has highlighted many of the dramatic changes in the strategic landscape as a result of some of the lessons learned after Katrina. These assessments reflect a fundamental change in emergency response across the country - the shift in focus from post-event recovery to pre-event evacuation, and risk mitigation planning. Learning from these lessons, the Virginia National Guard has made fundamental changes in order to become a full partner in emergency response planning in the Commonwealth.
Since Governor Kaine appointed me as his Adjutant General, the Virginia National Guard has achieved several significant milestones that have better prepared us to serve the Commonwealth in times of disaster. First, we have reorganized our senior staff and placed significant personnel resources into emergency response planning and operations. Further, we have relocated the Office of the Adjutant General and my key staff to Richmond, where we can better integrate with other emergency management and public safety agencies.
Additionally, working with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and the broader public safety community we have redefined our role to leverage our tremendous capability to plan and execute large-scale complex operations. We have also begun to meet with local officials to identify their planning needs.
Finally, we have formed three separate Joint Task Force Headquarters to deal with the most likely threats we might face through man-made or natural events in the National Capital Region, Hampton Roads, or anywhere else in Virginia.
As we are developing our plans, we are also exercising our capability to successfully carry them out. When we received a request from National Guard Bureau to support President Bush’s Southwest Border mission “Operation Jump Start,” we contacted our Soldiers and Airmen to determine who would be interested in volunteering for the mission.
Within 24 hours, we were able to identify over 300 Soldiers and Airmen that wanted to support this effort. What’s important to note is that we contacted over 7,000 Soldiers and over 1,200 Airmen in this process. It exercised our capability to instantly communicate with our Soldiers and Airmen.
This same mission demanded that we exercise our planning process to ensure we could muster, organize, logistically support, train, and most importantly command and control Soldiers and Airmen engaged in a complex effort. We accomplished this while preparing over 400 Soldiers to enter active federal service and deploy to Kosovo. “Operation Jump Start” tested our ability to respond quickly with no notice, and we did.
Nationwide, National Guard deployments in support to the Global War on Terror and the Southwest Border Mission have raised questions about our preparedness to respond at home. It is a fact that we have some equipment shortages; however, these do not materially affect our ability to serve the Commonwealth. In many ways, the increased tempo of operations over the last five years has better prepared us to plan for and respond to a disaster.
We have hundreds of highly experienced officers and non-commissioned officers who have operated successfully in the most hostile conditions imaginable. We also sent a Battalion to support the Katrina response. Our leaders know how to adapt to accomplish any mission. They can plan and execute incredibly complex operations and have an infectiously positive attitude in the midst of crisis. We are turning that capability inward, working with the Department of Emergency Management to support localities across the Commonwealth.
On the heels of the Katrina anniversary, Tropical Storm Ernesto provided us an opportunity to test our new ways of doing business. Long before the storm reached Virginia, the Virginia National Guard was working with other state agencies to better anticipate support requirements. Our planners and operations managers worked with their counterparts in various state agencies to determine how Virginia National Guard assets could best be used, and we significantly increased our presence in the Virginia Emergency Operations Center. These efforts enabled us to more rapidly integrate into operations during the event. We had Soldiers ready throughout the Commonwealth and we deployed to assist in evacuating families from the middle peninsula. Thankfully, Ernesto was only a tropical storm, but it tested our systems enough to show that we are on the right track.
Your Virginia National Guard is responding to a new strategic environment. We have positioned ourselves to gain maximum benefit from collaborating with our sister agencies. Our planners are coordinating with their counterparts from key regions in the state. We are exploring new ways of resourcing our efforts, especially in the area of interoperability, and we are strengthening the capability of the Virginia Defense Force. In short, we are constantly innovating in our determination to protect the Commonwealth, and continue the tradition of success that has long been the hallmark of the Virginia National Guard – The Commonwealth’s Guardians.