VDF conducts “Highland Guardian 23” statewide readiness exercise

Members of the Virginia Defense Force conduct personal search training during the Highland Guardian 23 statewide readiness exercise Oct. 14, 2023, in Richmond, Virginia. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Ericka Gillespie)

RICHMOND, Va. — Members of the Virginia Defense Force conducted the “Highland Guardian 23” statewide readiness exercise Oct. 14, 2023, at multiple locations across Virginia. The exercise tested the VDF’s communications and access control capabilities as well as provided training opportunities on operations center augmentation and systems used to maintain common operating picture.

The exercise simulated a severe winter storm and how the VDF would support the Virginia National Guard’s role as a member of the state multi-agency response team, and VDF teams operated from their home station armories in Richmond, Fairfax, Warrenton, Winchester and Virginia Beach.

“Our goal for the exercise was to conduct safe operations at home station armories across the state incorporating our organic communications and access control capabilities in a simulated winter storm environment, and we accomplished our primary training objectives,” said Brig. Gen. (Va.) Justin P. Carlitti Sr., Virginia Defense Force commanding general. “The entire exercise was planned and executed by junior officers and noncommissioned officers which allowed VDF senior leaders to be on site at each location to provide immediate feedback and mentoring to command teams. The exercise helped improve on the core capabilities the Virginia National Guard expects the VDF to provide during response operations.”

In Fairfax, personnel assigned to the VDF’s 31st Cyber Battalion, 1st Regiment acted as the administrative “white cell” for the exercise distributing scenario inputs as well as conducting training on a web-based operations tracking software suite, explained Capt. (Va.) Michael Perini, deputy G3 operations officer.

Members of the Virginia Defense Force conduct communications training during the Highland Guardian 23 statewide readiness exercise Oct. 14, 2023, in Fairfax, Virginia. (Contributed photo)

VDF personnel operated high frequency radios at each location and were able to effectively communicate basic operational information as well as train new personnel on antenna set up, proper radio procedures and mission tracking.

In Richmond and Virginia Beach, access control teams set up simulated entry control points with role players to add realism to the training.

The VDF’s Support Operations Group Training Support team plans to develop guidelines for more complex training scenarios when the VDF conducts their next statewide readiness exercise May 2024, Perini said.

Richmond also served as the simulated joint operations center for the exercise and provided a training opportunity for potential staff augmentation at the Virginia National Guard’s joint operations center at their headquarters at Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia.

Personnel working in the simulated JOC gained a better understanding about the entire state active duty emergency response process, Perini said.

“The company grade officers and senior enlisted personnel lead the way on these exercises,” Perini said. “With each iteration, we continue to add more complexities and challenges, and these junior officers and senior NCOs respond in kind every time. It is a privilege to watch the evolution occur.”

Compared to previous exercises, Highland Guardian 23 expanded the training focus.

“In previous iterations of these exercises, the focal point was communication,” Perini said. “This version allowed for a more holistic development of mission essential training, covering communication, JOC augmentation and access control. These exercises thereby greatly augment the reliability of the VDF in emergency situations.”

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 duty by an authorization from the Governor of Virginia.

View more photos on Flickr at https://ngpa.us/27357.

Members of the Virginia Defense Force conduct access control training during the Highland Guardian 23 statewide readiness exercise Oct. 14, 2023, at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach, Virginia.  (Virginia Defense Force photo by Lt. Col. (Va.) Cotton Puryear)