RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Defense Force kicked off a new recruiting push with a display at the Frostfest amateur radio show and convention Feb. 3, 2018, in Richmond, Virginia. The all-volunteer reserve of the Virginia National Guard is looking to grow from its current strength of approximately 300 personnel to its full authorized strength of 750.
“Based on the incidents of severe weather that impacted multiple locations across our nation in 2017, the Adjutant General of Virginia tasked the VDF to grow in order to better support the Virginia National Guard’s mission of assisting emergency response organizations to protect citizens of the commonwealth in times of need,” explained Brig. Gen. (Va.) Justin Carlitti, commander of the VDF.
Not only was the convention a great place to look for potential new members, it also provided an opportunity to network with key organizations in the amateur radio community, Carlitti said. He walked away from the convention with a list of contacts interested in conducting training exercises.
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.
Most recently, members of the VDF were part of the Virginia National Guard’s support to the inauguration of Virginia’s 73rd Governor and provided communications support and assisted with marshalling all the march elements for the parade.
In reviewing the overall success of the VNG’s support mission, Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, said he was pleased with the role of the VDF. “We had great support from our Virginia Defense Force volunteers who kept the entire parade formation moving, and they continue to prove why they are such a valuable resource and vital part of the Virginia National Guard team in all of our domestic operations,” he 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.
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 will train personnel for more general support to civil authorities and emergency response capabilities using such standards as FEMA’s Community Emergency Response Teams, Carlitti said. Training will include basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization and disaster medical operations.
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.
The VDF plans to conduct four three-day training assemblies at Fort Pickett this year that will focus 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.
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.
VDF members bring a wide variety of military, law enforcement, firefighting, emergency medical services, network security, radio communications and other civilian skills to mission sets including emergency communications support, operations center augmentation, resource management, operational planning, incident management assistance, cyber defense, access control and public information.
While some VDF members are retired military or first responders, many are younger people who looking to gain leadership experience and new skills.
“The main requirements for joining the VDF are a willingness to serve and an ability to respond when called to duty,” Carlitti said. “Regardless of your experience level or background, if you have a desire to serve your community and can volunteer a few hours of your time each month, then there is a place for you in our organization.”
Membership in the VDF is open to U.S citizens and legal residents with or without prior military service, ages 16 to 65. Members must have a valid social security number and no felony convictions.
The display at the convention showcased some of the organization’s history.
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.