October 9, 2008

Virginia Defense Force conducts FTX at Fort Pickett

By Maj. Cotton Puryear
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

The Virginia Defense Force conducted training with their mobile command posts during a field training exercise at Fort Pickett Oct. 4.(Photo by Maj. Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

FORT PICKETT, Va. — The Virginia Defense Force conducted a field training exercise at Fort Pickett Oct. 4 and 5 that had the largest participation ever of any training exercise at the division level.

“This is the most demanding exercise we have ever attempted,” said Maj. Gen. John Taylor, commander of the VDF. “It is the only way to train. We train like we are going to respond, and we respond like we trained.”

The Virginia Defense Force is an all-volunteer force authorized by the Code of Virginia and organized under the Virginia Department of Military Affairs. “Our mission is to provide direct support to the National Guard after a major disaster to help our fellow citizens in a time of need,” Taylor said. “There is no more noble mission than that.”

The training exercise focused on the VDF’s three core functions of communications, security and medical triage. Three different training sites were established that simulated responded to a downed aircraft, an overturned bus and providing search and medical triage after a tornado. In addition to those scenarios, the VDF also conducted security training and basic instruction training for new VDF members.

VDF units are located in over 38 Virginia Army National Guard installations throughout the Commonwealth. The division headquarters is located in Richmond and there are three operational brigades: Lafayette in the Tidewater area, Black Horse in Northern Virginia and Highland in Roanoke. 

Members of the Virginia Defense Force conduct medical triage on a simulated casualty during their field training exercise at Fort Pickett Oct. 4. (Photo by Maj. Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

The division currently has a total of more than 800 members and in 2007 they contributed over 7,500 mandays of volunteer service. This resulted in a financial contribution to the Commonwealth of over $1,000,000. The VDF’s goal is to reach 900 members by the end of 2008, and the long-term goal is to have 1,200 volunteers in four to five brigades and 12 to 15 battalions.

The VDF maintains and operates three mobile command post trailers that provide long range, high frequency radio communications capability for the VDF and the Virginia Guard. Two of those MCPs and almost 30 VDF members were on state active duty on stand by for possible missions in response to Tropical Storm Hanna.

During the FTX, each MCP was dispatched to the training sites and went into operation.At the tornado response site, the Highland Brigade’s MCP was staff in part by Staff Sgt. Eldridge Allen, a Lynchburg native and the senior communications operations sergeant for the brigade, and provided operational updates on the status of the fluid situation and communicated additional resources requirements to operations command.  

The mobile communications center provides long-range communications using HF, VHF and UHF.  The center is also capable of downloading satellite television for weather updates, lap top link-ups, etc. and has interoperable capability with other emergency agencies. “We did what we had to do,” Allen said. “We found the problems that existed, overcame the hiccups and executed well.” Allen recently retired from the communications industry as a field service communications engineer.

The FTX provided VDF members a chance to evaluate their skills and determine how to focus their training in the coming months.
“This training gave us a chance to test ourselves and see how well we can perform the skills we have been training on for the last year,” said 2nd Lt. Heather Welsh, the executive officer for the Manassas-based E Company, 23rd Battalion, Black Horse Brigade. “This was a very intense weekend, and the training was worthwhile.”

Welsh said the leadership from her company will use the feedback from the FTX to chart the course for the unit’s training in the coming months in preparation for the brigade’s FTX in the spring. 

For more information about the Virginia Defense Force call the Division Headquarters in Richmond at 804-228-7018 or 866-791-9164.

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