First group of Virginia National Guard soldiers departs for US Virgin Islands

BLACKSTONE, Va. – The first group of Virginia National Guard soldiers assigned to the Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team departed for the U.S Virgin Islands on Sunday.

They left from Blackstone Army Airfield to join a multistate, multiagency effort to respond to recent hurricanes.

These soldiers will serve as a mission command headquarters and synchronize all National Guard operations assisting with recovery effort, and additional soldiers from multiple units from across the commonwealth will continue to deploy in the coming days to provide additional assistance.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe authorized the Virginia National Guard support on Sept. 22 to join other state organizations providing assistance in the region.

About 50 soldiers departed Sunday, and another 350 soldiers from multiple Virginia National Guard units from across the commonwealth and the remaining 50 soldiers from the brigade headquarters are scheduled to depart in the next few days.

Based on the current conditions,  Lt. Col. Jared Lake, executive officer for the 116th IBCT, said the Virginia soldiers will most likely be distributing food, water and other supplies, helping clear debris and providing security.

Soldiers assigned to 116th IBCT units stationed in Hamptons Roads, Northern Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley and the Lynchburg-Roanoke area are taking part in the mission. 

Going into an area that has damaged infrastructure and is short on supplies created a significant logistics challenge; the 116th needed to take everything it would need to conduct operations, Lake said. Basic needs, such as food and water had to be packed, as did computers, maps, overlay material, tables, chairs, generators and tents from which to conduct mission command. The IBCT also had to prepare vehicles and equipment for the support mission and take along repair parts and other maintenance items.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, the National Guard has reopened St. Croix’s airfield to receive critical resupply and is facilitating reopening of seaports as well. It is also clearing and repairing roads, manning and securing distribution points and shelters and providing power generators to support critical infrastructure.