Nov. 17, 2011

VDF tests capabilities with "Forward Guardian" exercise

By Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen   
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

SANDSTON, Va. — Members of the Virginia Defense Force conducted their annual field training exercise Nov. 5-6 at locations across the commonwealth, and the “Forward Guardian” exercise was built around command and control operations and deploying specially-designed “packages” of VDF members that would provide capabilities to assist the Virginia National Guard.


Members of the Virginia Defense Force assist stranded motorists in a simulated snowstorm during their field training exercise Nov. 5 at Fort Pickett. The VDF conducted its 2011 Forward Guardian FTX Nov. 5-6 at several locations across the commonwealth. The VDF FTX was built around command and control operations and deploying various response packages in response to scenario-based events. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

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The VDF conducted 24-hour operations to simulate how they would respond to a major snowstorm event in Virginia, according to Lt. Col. (Va.) Stewart Bentley, mission director for the exercise.

“This is the first time we have done 24-hour operations,” said Col. (Va.) Justin P. Carlitti, operations officer and 28-year Marine Corps veteran. “Normally we will start at 1600, stop at 2000, start again at 0700, so this is the first time we have done 24 hours straight operations through the night, and we threw everything against them.”

“Forward Guardian is a readiness exercise that will help assure that we can mobilize, deploy and perform operations during natural or man-made emergencies in Virginia," said Col. (Va.) Richard Downey, commander of Manassas-based Black Horse Brigade.

During the exercise, the VDF maintained a command and control element in the Virginia National Guard Joint Operations Center in Sandston, Va., while deploying teams to locations in Manassas, Fort Pickett and the Hampton Roads area to conduct training.

“We deployed, mobilized and sent out on various missions, the entire Virginia Defense Force in geographically diverse locations,” said Bentley. The training included deploying several Incident Management Assistance Teams, who in a real-world situation would work closely with and lend support to Soldiers and Airmen of the Virginia National Guard. The VDF also had the Shelter Assistance Liaison Teams, the Aviation Battalion and the Riverines Detachment involved in the weekend scenario.


Members of the Virginia Defense Force Riverine Detachment search the water around Rudee Inlet in Virginia Beach for a "missing person" during the 2011 Forward Guardian Field Training Exercise Nov. 5. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

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“This is the first exercise of its nature that the VDF has done where we have stood everyone up,” said Bentley. “We stood up all of the TAC-PAKs; we had the mobile command posts out and operational; we were running aviation reconnaissance and surveillance missions checking on the status of the major highways and we also had the Riverine unit down on the Chesapeake doing riverine reconnaissance missions.

“We are a force multiplier for the Virginia Department of Military Affairs. We have right at 1,000 troops who are all volunteers, who are trained and ready to go to support the National Guard in the event we are called to active duty by the governor,” Bentley said. “What we are providing is essentially a command and control network that will help the Guard carry out its missions in response to a disaster.”

The VDF FTX was also the first time the VDF ran the FTX concurrently with a tabletop exercise with the Virginia Guard Joint Force Headquarters to give the Guard the opportunity to control actual maneuver forces during their exercise.

“The big thing was the integration with the Joint Force headquarters. Normally in the past, the VDF would execute its own missions,” said Carlitti. “The Guard knew what we were doing, but now that’s why we are here; the integration between the JOC and with our forces. We are now collocated working with the JOC and that’s what we simulated here, the passage of message traffic between the JOC, through our team here, to the maneuver brigades.

“I already met with the (Virginia) Guard Director of Operations and the Deputy Director of Operations and this is going to become the normal course of activity,” he said. “It’s going to be joint exercises, and that is the way it should be.”


Members of the Virginia Defense Force conduct aviation operations Nov. 5 at the Blackstone Army Air Field as part of their 2011 Forward Guardian field training exercise. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

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“This exercise was a building block for the Virginia National Guard and the VDF,” said Col. (Va.) John Fortune, commander of Lafayette Brigade. “This is a bridge we had to cross before we could move on to the next level of training. This was a chance for us to show the Guard we know what we’re doing and we’re ready for the next step.”

The VDF will continue to train throughout the year during their scheduled one-day monthly training and the two weekends per year in an all-volunteer status. The members dedicate their training time in an unpaid status to be prepared for a time when the governor may call upon them in an emergency. The members receive paid compensation for their time only while in a state active duty as directed by the governor.

“We train, for it, we practice for it, we have an exercise of it and that is critical to have a joint Army/Air/Virginia Defense Force/civilian first responders operations to respond to a disaster,” said Maj. Gen. (Va.) John D. Taylor, Virginia Defense Force Commander. “We will have a disaster one day, you know, I hope we don’t, but hope is not a strategy. We have to plan for it and if we do have it, we will respond. We’re here to serve.”

The VDF is an all-volunteer force authorized by the Code of Virginia and organized under the Virginia Department of Military Affairs reporting to the Adjutant General of Virginia. In 2010, the VDF donated approximately 58,850 man hours in service to the commonwealth.  Using the Virginia average of $21.45 per hour of volunteer work, this equates to $1,262,332 in support.

Additional reporting by Capt. (Va.) Dave Cahan, Black Horse Brigade

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