FORT BELVOIR, Va. — The Virginia Defense Force commissioned four new officers during a graduation ceremony Sept. 17, 2022, at the National Museum of the United States Army at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Candidates Ray Baez, Chris Connor, and Shoaib Yahya were promoted to second lieutenant and Billie Ray Jeffries was promoted to warrant officer one after completing the eight-month VDF Officer Candidate School program.
“Lead, lead, lead,” was the primary advice from Brig. Gen. (Va.) Justin P. Carlitti Sr., commanding general of the Virginia Defense Force. “We are extremely proud of you, and you should enjoy the leadership challenges. This is why we wear the uniform, and you do it because of the end result. It is about both leadership and mentorship for those men and women you lead, and they will look to you for guidance.”
He also stressed the importance of collaboration with the noncommissioned officer corps in order to achieve the mission.
Carlitti also thanked the families for their support.
“This is all about you,” he told the families. “Thank you for supporting these new officers and helping them get to this point. We can’t do what we do without your support.”
Lt. Col. (Va.) Richard L. Diddams, the VDF G3 operations officer, congratulated the new officers and said he was looking forward to working along side them.
“It is a privilege to serve,” he said. “Remember you will never accomplish your mission unless you are taking care of providing for the welfare of those you are responsible to lead.”
The four new officers made up the OCS “Alpha Class.” Their seven counterparts in the “Bravo Class” will graduate in December 2022.
Second Lt. (Va.) Ray Baez has been serving in Bravo Company, 11th Signal Battalion, as a platoon sergeant and noncommissioned officer in charge of training. He now becomes the administrative action officer in the VDF Force Headquarters G1 Personnel Office.
Second Lt. (Va.) Chris Connor has been serving in Delta Company as acting executive officer, and now becomes the company’s regular executive officer.
Second Lt. (Va.) Shoaib Yahya has been serving as a noncommissioned officer in Bravo Company, 11th Signal Battalion. He now becomes the platoon leader for the company’s 2nd Platoon.
Warrant Officer 1 (Va.) Billie Ray Jeffries has been serving as the noncommissioned officer for the VDF Inspector General’s Office. His next assignment will be as temporary assistant inspector general.
“These officer candidates are the first class to complete OCS in eight months, as opposed to the previous 12 months,” explained 1st Lt. (Va.) Michael Perini, the VDF’s officer-in-charge of training. “There was no contraction of training. In fact, we added on more professional military education. The troops had to negotiate the same training in a shorter amount of time, and that meant many more weeknights of virtual meetings with VDF leaders lecturing on a variety of pertinent topics like leadership, ethics, and so on. I have been very pleased to see their progression from January 2022 until now.”
Perini said that Warrant Officer 1 (Va.) Vincent Poto and Warrant Officer 1 (Va.) J. Losee served as the “Training, Advise, and Council” or TAC officers who directly mentored Alpha Class through their training program. Poto is planning/training/TAC officer for the VDF Operations and Training staff as well as state deputy director for the military emergency management specialist training program available through the State Guard Association of the United States.
The National Museum of the United States Army, which honors the accomplishments, sacrifices, and commitment of American Soldiers, provided an appropriate setting for the graduation ceremony. The new VDF officers, as part of the uniformed civilian reserve for the Virginia National Guard, seek to reflect the Army’s seven core values: “Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, Personal Courage.”
Since opening its doors in November 2020, the Museum has welcomed more than 100,000 visitors, including VDF members doing their professional military education. Read about the VDF’s visit to the museum at https://ngpa.us/21954. The museum is owned and operated by the U.S. Army and managed by the nonprofit Army Historical Foundation. Learn more at https://www.thenmusa.org/
Lt. Col. (Va.), Michael Center, who served as commandant of OCS for most of the Alpha Class’ time in training, recently retired from the VDF and was not able to attend the graduation. However, in a prepared message to the graduates he encouraged them to consider the “The Three M’s” of leadership: “The Mission, the Men, and Me,” which he drew from retired Army Lt. Col. Pete Blaber’s book about leadership lessons from the U.S. Army’s Delta Force.
“You as graduating second lieutenants should be very proud of what you have accomplished,” Center wrote. “You now have to work your personal life, your work commitment, and your VDF career into a pattern so that each of these helps the others. Make it count. Make it the best.”
Meet the Force’s newest officers
A career Navy enlisted man, Baez joined the VDF’s Fairfax Unit as a sergeant first class in October 2019 “to make a difference in my community.”
He quickly took on a leadership role in the VDF as a platoon sergeant and noncommissioned officer in charge of training, drawing on his experiences supporting the Navy’s personnel development programs. “I actively sought to work with the senior NCO community to improve how we care for our soldiers,” he said. “I drafted several VDF Regulation changes and worked with my company commander and first sergeant to get everyone eligible for promotion.”
This attitude of service runs deep. Baez’s father served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, and Baez grew up as a “Navy brat.” He spent four years in Naval Junior ROTC during high school before enlisting in the Navy, serving first as a submarine nuclear technician and then as a career counselor.
Baez said that his OCS experience was very enlightening, especially from his perspective as a Navy man. His best advice to anyone considering applying to OCS is to get the academic prerequisites completed early. The Federal Emergency Management Agency courses that comprise much of VDF basic training are just the beginning of the academic experience, he said.
“The most challenging part of the OCS course was trying to meet in person enough to meet and build quality relationships with other officers and noncommissioned officers to create a strong base for us, the new officers,” the new second lieutenant said. “The OCS candidates would meet, chat, email, or just call each other several times a week to make sure we were prepared for upcoming class events. We shared the class leader position to allow each other to experience interacting with the OCS cadre and build professional relationships. These relationships will help us in our future efforts to support the VDF. All in all, it was a great experience.”
Connor is also a former Navy man, who has held various leadership roles in support of aircraft carrier flight operations, including flight-deck supervisor and flight-deck petty officer. He deployed twice in support of combat operations in Afghanistan, in 2010 with the carrier USS Harry S. Truman in 2010 and in 2014 with the carrier USS George H. W. Bush.
Since retirement from the Navy, Connor has been a police officer with the Port of Virginia. He joined the VDF in November 2020 to do more to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. In his time with the VDF, he has been on state active duty in support of the Portsmouth Health Department’s vaccination mission. “My highlight so far has been working with Delta Company,” he said. “The soldiers in Delta Company are the backbone of why I stay and work hard.”
Connor said that the best advice he can give to a prospective OCS candidate is to consider it as challenging as any other VDF assignment, and to prepare as much as possible beforehand. He said that he linked “mental prep” and “logistical prep” together by completing all the FEMA and MEMS classes ahead of time. “Because I completed all FEMA and MEMS requirements, my hours spent weekly on OCS were between 10 and 20,” he said. Connor added that he wants to see all VDF personnel complete the MEMS training and as many FEMA courses as possible. (There are currently 208 available.)
Jeffries said that he joined the VDF as a way “give back” to the nation, and noted that family with a long tradition of military service, stretching back to World War I. “My great-grandfathers served during WWI and WWII, my grandfather served during WWII, my Uncle James Jeffries served during Vietnam and Korea, my cousin Jerry Jeffries served during Desert Storm, my cousin Jonathon Jeffries served during Afghanistan and Iraq, and I have a nephew that is deployed in the Army now as we speak.”
Jeffries said that he hoped to join the U.S. Air Force in a medical specialty because he is a nationally certified pharmacy technician and has certifications in first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and automated external defibrillator use. However, he was unable to obtain an age waiver. Looking for alternatives, he came across the VDF website while looking to see how he could join a military service despite being past the age of full enlistment. “I joined the VDF Delta Company Unit in Virginia Beach at my very first multiple unit training assembly at Ft. Pickett on July 13, 2018,” Jeffries said. “I joined the VDF because I feel it’s a part of me, like my family, that we want to serve and give back to our nation that we want to see prosper and succeed.”
“I hope that my new status as an officer will help others see that they should never give up,” Jeffries said. “Keep looking forward. Do your best. And in time all things happen when they are meant to be.” He noted that he had previously applied for OCS but did not get in. He applied again, on the recommendation of his commanding officer, Maj. (Va.) Rosalie Yarborough, the VDF Inspector General, and was successful. Jeffries notes that he is now the first officer in his family name all the way back to World War I.
Yahya said “I got to know about this very well-kept secret of Virginia Defense Force by courtesy of Lt. Rana. He encouraged me to volunteer time and effort to serve the citizens of the great Commonwealth of Virginia. So, in 2016, I decided to join VDF and began to drill out of the Fairfax Armory.” During his six years with the VDF, he has had the opportunity serve at the Apple Blossom Festival, the governor’s inauguration, and the mobilization of Virginia National Guard. The new second lieutenant said that he has enjoyed his time as an NCO but “I wanted to do more, and Capt. Pearson suggested that I would be a good fit to join the OCS program.” He now will be able to serve his fellow troops as platoon leader for Bravo Company.
To learn more about joining the Virginia Defense Force and the requirements for attending OCS, please visit the VDF Recruiting page or email the recruiters at email@example.com.