Training weekend with the Virginia Defense Force

The VDF shoulder insignia. Photo credit JKC.
The VDF shoulder insignia. Photo credit JKC.

Some of you may remember a previous article I wrote on citizens, the police reserves, and state guards.  Well, I had a chance today to observe some training that the local unit of the Virginia Defense Force was conducting, as well as talk to the Commander of First Regiment, Major Richard Rheinsmith.

First, a little about the mission of the VDF from their website:

“The Virginia Defense Force (VDF) is an all-volunteer, formal military organization. Its mission is to assist the Virginia National Guard in performing state missions as specified by the Governor.

The VDF is the state’s only military force that is independent of federal control. With units located throughout the state, at the direction of the Department of Military Affairs, the VDF can move into a stricken area quickly, interact with and assist local authorities and restore community integrity as soon as possible. Working during blizzards, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other disasters, the VDF volunteers are familiar faces working in nearby towns and cities bringing aid and comfort to their neighbors.”

And from the Code of Virginia:

“The Virginia Defense Force with a targeted membership of at least 1,200 shall be organized within and subject to the control of the Department of Military Affairs.

When called to state active duty, the mission of the Virginia Defense Force shall be to (i) provide for an adequately trained organized reserve militia to assume control of Virginia National Guard facilities and to secure any federal and state property left in place in the event of the mobilization of the Virginia National Guard, (ii) assist in the mobilization of the Virginia National Guard, (iii) support the Virginia National Guard in providing family assistance to military dependents within the Commonwealth in the event of the mobilization of the Virginia National Guard, and (iv) provide a military force to respond to the call of the Governor in those circumstances described in § 44-75.1.”

And a little about their history:

Virginia State Volunteers / Virginia Volunteers: 1917-1921

In response to the 1917 federalization of the Virginia National Guard, the Commonwealth of Virginia created the Virginia State Volunteers to support civil authorities. Soon renamed the Virginia Volunteers, the group guarded bridges, waterways, fuel storage areas, and public buildings and facilities during the war years, armed with surplus weapons dating back to 1876. With the return of the National Guard units after World War I, the last company of the Virginia Volunteers was deactivated in 1921. A total of 1,300 Virginians served in the Virginia Volunteers from 1917 to 1921.

Virginia Protective Force / Virginia State Guard: 1941-1947

Following the 1940 Nazi defeat of the French army, Virginia Governor Price created the Virginia Defense Council to plan for the possibility that the Virginia National Guard could be federalized once again. Based on the recommendation of the council, Governor Price ordered the establishment of the Virginia Protective Force on January 2, 1941. Provided surplus M-1917 Enfield rifles and blue-grey wool uniforms made in the state’s penitentiaries, the Virginia Protective Force assumed the in-state missions of the Virginia National Guard when it was called to federal service. In 1944 the General Assembly changed the name of the Virginia Protective Force to the Virginia State Guard. With the return of the Virginia National Guard from overseas service, the Commonwealth deactivated the Virginia State Guard in June 1947. A total of 16,885 Virginians served in the Virginia Protective Force and Virginia State Guard from 1941 to 1947.

Virginia State Guard / Virginia Defense Force: 1985-Present

The Total Force policies of the Department of Defense prompted changes to federal law in the mid-1980s, allowing states to establish military forces designated to assume the missions of their state National Guards in the event they were called to federal service. With planning dating back to 1981, the Commonwealth created the first units of the new Virginia State Guard 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 Virginia Defense Force currently has more than 1000 men and women serving their communities throughout the Commonwealth.

The training I got to observe this weekend was crowd control and entry control points, conducted in conjunction with a

Practicing shield work. Photo credit JKC.
Practicing shield work. Photo credit JKC.

local National Guard unit.  I know the stereotype of State Guard members is typically less than favorable, but I was impressed with how seriously the volunteers were taking the training.  There were a wide variety of ages represented, from teens to retired adults.  There were also a variety of experiences, from untrained to retired military to civilian professionals and first responders.  All were engaged and willing.  The first training day encompassed classroom and practical, including expandable baton, takedowns, empty hand control, and a use of force brief from the Judge Advocate.  The second day covered ECP and vehicle searches, then riot control with the shield and baton.

While this particular drill weekend was focused on a security/law enforcement mission, it certainly isn’t the only mission the VDF undertakes.  During the weekend the 1st Regiment also supported a multi-state communications exercise using High Frequency Radios called TAC-PAK’s – a multi-user “Briefcase Command Center”.  These lightweight, battery-powered, man-portable communication platforms (with full wireless communications functionality) are integrated into small suitcases and attached to Incident Management Assistance Teams (IMAT’s).   This is what the VDF uses when they provide communications support for disasters and other emergent events along with their other assistance to planned events (such as manning aid booths and parking).

Conducting radio inventory. Photo credit JKC.
Conducting radio inventory. Photo credit JKC.

Elements of the VDF are training in wilderness search and rescue, and there is a new cyber unit that will be assisting with major planned events within the next year.

To tie this in to the previous article: the VDF is all-volunteer, and they only get paid when they are called to state active duty, so their drills and associated expenses (gas, gear, food, etc.) are all out of pocket.  They perform a service to the state by augmenting local and state agencies, as well as the National Guard during planned and emergent events, and they do it because they want to.  To me, this is a positive example of the kind of citizen engagement that our country really needs today.  As MAJ Rheinsmith said, “Our volunteer members bring to the table their individually developed skill set.  Through collaboration, cohesion and common goals we provide capabilities to the commonwealth in times of need.  Come join us; you won’t know if you like it until you try!”

Baton takedowns. Photo credit JKC.
Baton takedowns. Photo credit JKC.

If this article interests you, and you don’t mind some long hours for no pay, you can contact the VDF through their website or on their Facebook page.  Even if you have no military experience, I know they’d be happy to hear from you.  From what I’ve seen, it’s a group of guys and gals who are just looking to do their part for their state and are willing to put their time and money where their mouths are.  I just wish half the Internet’s keyboard warriors would do the same.

About the author

Joel is a 12 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team. He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer. He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US. He is the owner of Hybrid Defensive Strategies, LLC in Chesapeake, VA, and can be contacted on Facebook and Instagram. Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Coast Guard or the US Government.

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