FORT BELVOIR, Va. — The Virginia Defense Force commissioned four new officers during a graduation ceremony Sept. 16, 2023, at the National Museum of the United States Army at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Candidates Charles Leftwich, Eric Badertscher and Nathan Stiefel were promoted to second lieutenant and Kenneth Taylor was promoted to warrant officer one after completing the eight-month VDF Officer Candidate School program.
Col. (Va.) Richard Diddams, the VDF G3 operations and training officer, was the keynote speaker for the ceremony, and Col. (Va.) Kent Brinkley, the VDF chief of staff, administered the oath of office to the graduates.
In his keynote remarks, Diddams stressed the importance of character and courage and shared stories from his service in the U.S. Marine Corps as examples of how to live and demonstrate those values.
“We all know what’s right, we all know what’s wrong, but do you have the courage to do what’s right in spite of tremendous pressure?” he said. “As officers you have to lead by having courage to do what’s right.”
He stressed that while some may choose to use fear and intimidation to lead, that will only work in the short term. He encouraged the new officers to demonstrate character and integrity by example and develop relationships to be more effective leaders.
Diddams also stressed the importance of having support of loved ones.
“Your success will also depend on your family,” he said. “Anyone who has been successful knows the value and support your family gives you.”
Brig. Gen. (Va.) Justin P. Carlitti Sr., the VDF commanding general, congratulated the new officers on the “momentous occasion” and recalled how he still remembered the day he was commissioned. He also acknowledged the importance of duty and responsibility that comes with officer leadership and service.
He echoed emphasis Diddams placed on family and acknowledged that service in the VDF often could mean time away.
“We can’t get to where we are without you,” he told the families present. “You are critical to our success.”
About the new officersCol
Badertscher, who grew up in Maryland and received a journalism degree from the University of Maryland, first learned about state defense forces while attending a church where one of the pastors served as a chaplain in the Maryland Defense Force. After moving to Virginia, he joined the VDF in 2021 to serve in the Public Information Office where he improved his communication and photography skills and helped tell the VDF story to internal and external audiences. Having been fascinated with the military since childhood, he said he is particularly drawn to its ethos of selfless service in defense of the nation.
“I now consider the Commonwealth of Virginia my home, and serving in the VDF has enabled me to fulfill my dream of military service while also helping to protect my friends and neighbors,” Badertscher said. “Commissioning will enable me to serve my community more effectively, especially in the field of emergency management. Joining the VDF has been the right choice for this phase of my life.“
Leftwich is a fire captain with York County Fire and Life Safety and has been in the fire department for 35 years. Over his career, he has been a member of the Department of Homeland Security FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Team Virginia Task Force 2, Tidewater Regional Technical Rescue Team, and dive team, and has served as a fire academy instructor. He joined the VDF in 2015 and returned in 2021, and he is currently part of the medical group assigned to Delta Company at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach.
Stiefel serves with Badertscher in the VDF PIO. He joined the VDF in April 2021, and has since provided public affairs support to several of the VDF’s statewide exercises and multiple unit training assemblies. He also supported other events including the Inauguration of the 74th Governor of Virginia in January 2022 and the redesignation of the Virginia National Guard’s Fort Barfoot in March 2023. He is a member of the Senior Executive Service within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and he said he is eager to continue serving the public in this new capacity as a commissioned officer in the VDF.
“After learning about the VDF in March 2021, I was eager to join and support the organization’s mission wherever possible,” Stiefel said. “As a public information officer, I have the opportunity to tell the VDF story, including its long history, and continued service across the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
Taylor serves as the executive officer for Delta Company in Virginia Beach. Prior to OCS, he served as the communications noncommissioned officer for Delta Company. He enlisted in the VDF in September 2021 after having previously served as a sergeant in the Virginia Army National Guard. After an encouraging conversation with his company leadership who saw the value in Taylor’s experience with the VaARNG as well as software engineering, electronics and amateur radio, he decided to pursue becoming a warrant officer.
Taylor comes from a military family and said he is honored to receive a commission as a warrant officer in the VDF.
“My father served over 20 years in the Navy and retired as a command master chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy,” Taylor said. “He was a man of great character and taught me a lot about integrity and duty. As children, my siblings and I saw a lot of the world and the United States. We would not be in Virginia if my father had not held up his right hand and taken the oath of enlistment.
View more photos from the ceremony on the Virginia National Guard Flickr site at https://www.flickr.com/photos/vaguardpao/albums/72177720311268610.