FORT PICKETT, Va. — More than 130 members of the Virginia Defense Force conducted training to improve their individual skills and professional development March 16-18, 2018, at Fort Pickett, Virginia. VDF volunteers trained on high frequency radio and mobile communications platform operations, incident management assistance, traffic control and access control and also took part in professional development classes including junior officer and senior noncommissioned officer leader development, property accountability, procurement procedures, officer candidate school and recruiting and retention. Communications support, operations center augmentation and security assistance are some of the many different mission sets the VDF provides as the all-volunteer auxiliary to the Virginia National Guard authorized by the Code of Virginia.
“This weekend was an opportunity to sharpen existing skills or to learn new ones with a focus on hands-training and individual proficiency,” explained Brig. Gen. (Va.) Just Carlitti, commander of the VDF. “I was really happy to see the effort everyone put into the training, and this will be put to use in the future with our plans for evaluations and exercises.”
Carlitti explained that the VDF plans to conduct four three-day training assemblies at Fort Pickett this year focusing on professional military education, small unit leadership and headquarters staff operations as well as refresher training on communications equipment and initial entry training for new members. Operational readiness evaluations will also be conducted to ensure personnel and equipment are ready for possible state active duty response missions.
The VDF is authorized by Title 44 of the Code of the Virginia as the all-volunteer reserve of the Virginia National Guard, and it serves as a force multiplier integrated into all Guard domestic operations. The VDF reports to the Adjutant General of Virginia as part of the Virginia Department of Military Affairs along with the Virginia Army National Guard and Virginia Air National Guard. Members of the VDF volunteer their time for training and are only paid when called to state active duty by an authorization from the Governor of Virginia.
Cpl. (Va.) Regina Harris, a Farmville resident who works for the Virginia Department of Corrections, was one of the VDF members training on the mobile communication platform. She has served in the VDF for more than three years, and the MCP was a new training opportunity for her. She explained that one of the things she liked most about serving in the VDF is the opportunity to learn new skills.
“I love it,” Harris said. “I learn something new all the time. I am learning so much about communications and how we integrate with other organizations.”
Harris said she joined the VDF because she was looking for an opportunity to belong to an organization that helped people. She was familiar with the military because her father and daughter both served in the U.S. Army, and after learning about the VDF, she felt it was an organization she wanted to be a part of and to help other people.
“I stay because I enjoy it,” Harris said. “I want to help. I want to be there if someone needs us. I love being part of a team, and everyone is very supportive.”
Sgt. (Va.) Kasui Young, a Newport News resident who works with security forces at Fort Belvoir, was one of the instructors for the incident management assistance class.He has served in the VDF for more than eight years and focused his course on hands-on learning to make it more interesting.
“I wanted to make the class fun to get everyone engaged and involved so the enjoyed the training,” he said. “I also used realistic scenarios with some additional stress so they can see how important it is to adapt, overcome and accomplish the mission.”
Much like Harris, Young joined the VDF because he wanted to help people and stays because of the sense of teamwork and camaraderie.
“I love it, and nothing is going to stop me from serving,” Young said. “I would tell anyone interested in the VDF that is an awesome unit to be a part of. I wouldn’t miss it for anything in the world, and I like doing something that is for the greater good of the commonwealth.”
Pfc. (Va.) Mikayla Morgan was one of Young’s students, and while she has only been in the VDF for barely two months, she said it has been a positive experience. A native of Allegheny County and senior at Radford University, she plans to pursue a masters degree at Clemson and work with veterans experiencing PTSD. She learned more about the VDF from Dr. Jim Newman, one of her professors who is a major in the VDF.
“It has been a good learning experience, and I really like it,” Morgan said. “The people are what I like the most.”
Morgan said that she was motivated to join the VDF after seeing all the hurricanes that hit different parts of the country in 2017. She explained that she wanted to be “on the front lines at home” to lend a helping hand to those in need.
“I wanted to be in the community to help, so the VDF was exactly what I was looking for,” she said. “It allows me to serve, but also give me the freedom to go to school.”
Morgan was made a team leader during the training, and she explained that she learned a lot from the opportunity.
“This is a way for young people to get leadership experience and advance skills in a setting where everyone wants to lift you up,” she said.
In recent months when severe weather struck the commonwealth, VDF personnel worked in a number of different capacities. In the Virginia Emergency Operations Center, they assisted with processing requests for support in Emergency Support Function 16, the Guard’s response cell in the VEOC. They also assisted with mission tracking in the Guard’s Joint Operations Center and helped with public information support as well as providing interoperable communications and incident management assistance to units in the field.
The VDF is also growing cyber defense capabilities and has assisted with numerous Virginia National Guard network security assessments for Virginia localities in a state active duty status.
In the last 18 months, members of the VDF volunteered in their communities assisting organizers and law enforcement at events like the Virginia War Memorial during Veterans Day and Memorial Day, the Winchester Apple Blossom Festival, the Lynchburg Air Show and the World War II Commemoration in Richmond.
During domestic operations, the Virginia National Guard receives missions through the Virginia Department of Emergency Management to assist the Virginia State Police and other state and local emergency service organizations as part of the state emergency response team.
In addition to current mission sets like interoperable communications, operations center augmentation, incident management assistance and public information, the VDF plans to train personnel for more general support to civil authorities and emergency response capabilities.
The VDF MCP is a 7 1/2 feet by 16 feet trailer equipped with multiple radio systems for voice and data communications, and it also features a map board and work space so it can function as a mobile command post. Using an MCP, members of the VDF are able to communicate across a variety of radio spectrums with emergency response and public safety organizations as well as amateur radio operators. In the event of severe weather like hurricanes or heavy snow where traditional communication systems could become disrupted, the VDF MCPs would provide a vital communications capability for the Virginia National Guard as it conducts operations to assist with keeping citizens of the commonwealth safe.
The VDF traces it origins back to World War I when the Virginia State Volunteers were created to support civil authorities during the 1917 federalization of the Virginia National Guard. Soon renamed the Virginia Volunteers, the group guarded bridges, waterways, fuel storage areas and public buildings and facilities during the war years. A total of 1,300 Virginians served in the Virginia Volunteers from 1917 to 1921.
In 1941 with the National Guard federalized for World War II service, the Virginia Protective Force was authorized and assumed the in-state missions of the Guard. In 1944 the General Assembly changed the name of the Virginia Protective Force to the Virginia State Guard, and a total of 16,885 Virginians served in the Virginia Protective Force and Virginia State Guard from 1941 to 1947.
The first units of the new Virginia State Guard were created in 1985 with same mission as its predecessors: support of civil authority. In 1989 the General Assembly renamed the Virginia State Guard the Virginia Defense Force. The motto of the Virginia Defense Force is “Virginians Helping Virginians,” and its dedicated volunteers consistently demonstrate that they embody the spirit of selfless service in their communities across the commonwealth.
The Virginia National Guard and Virginia Defense Force traces the heritage and traditions of citizen service to the founding of Jamestown when Capt. John Smith organized the colonists for defense. Since the colony’s founding on May 14, 1607, there has not been a day since without a military presence in Virginia to protect citizens at home and defend freedom overseas.