By Edwin L. Wriston
The West Virginia National Guard closed out 2021 with numerous significant accomplishments that included homeland and disaster response missions, deployments around the globe, and sustained activation to help West Virginia combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
“2021 was a year full of challenges and missions, both at home and abroad that our National Guard members completed with distinction,” said Maj. Gen. William “Bill” Crane, the Adjutant General of the WVNG. “Our entire One Guard continues to prove themselves as a truly premier organization around the world. I couldn’t be more proud of all that was accomplished over the last 12 months and look forward to the future successes we will see in 2022.”
Throughout 2021, the WVNG maintained an aggressive domestic operations tempo with State Active Duty missions responding to winter storms and flooding events in the Mountain State. Aviation team members assisted wildland firefighting efforts in California and the west coast. The Guard stood up teams for potential deployment to support hurricane and tornado relief efforts, mobilized troops in support of the 59th Presidential Inauguration and security for the National Capital Region, and continued the ongoing important work of counter drug efforts and southwest border security support. Members of the Critical Infrastructure Battalion conducted more than 140 critical infrastructure and port security assessments around the United States. The Regional Training Institute, located at Camp Dawson, supported the training of approximately 119,000 military and civilian personnel for the year.
Working with other military agencies, first responder groups, and higher education and private sector organizations and partners, the WVNG participated in numerous high-profile exercises. These included the international cybersecurity exercise Locked Shields, the national-level air mobility exercise Sentry Storm 2021, the national-level reserve component readiness exercise Northern Strike 2021, and hosted a large-scale national-level disaster exercise Vigilant Guard at the West Virginia All-Hazards Training Site, located in Clay and Nicholas counties.
The WVNG continued to support youth of the Mountain State and help mold future generations through expansion of the Future Leaders Program, a high school-based leadership program to seven counties and fourteen schools across the state, provided hands-on and virtual learning opportunities to nearly 1,500 students through the STEM-based STARBASE program in both Charleston and Martinsburg, and continued the incredible success of the Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy, graduating the first class of cadets from the new MCA-South campus and surpassing 5,000 graduates from the MCA program since its inception in 1993.
Economic development efforts continued with the additional expansion of the Patriot Guardens program, the Muddlety Apple Project, and celebrating the graduation of 39 participants through various courses in the Jobs and Hope West Virginia program.
On the international stage, more than 400 members of the West Virginia Army and Air National Guard deployed around the world. Units mobilized in 2021 included the 111th Engineer Brigade; 2nd Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne); Company C, 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion; 130th Airlift Wing and 167th Airlift Wing. The WVNG celebrated the 25th anniversary of our State Partnership Program relationship with Peru while assisting with COVID-19 expertise, and participated in a symbolic signing ceremony to celebrate the West Virginia-Qatar partnership while also providing expert advice for planning of the 2022 Arab and World Cups.
Leading from the front during perhaps the Guard’s most significant mission of the year, the 167th and 130th Airlift Wings were instrumental in the United States’ withdrawal of forces out of Afghanistan. In total, the Martinsburg-based unit completed 14 sorties over 13 days carrying 37.7 short tons of cargo and 1,224 passengers. Five total Security Forces Phoenix Ravens from both units helped to secure aircraft access on the ground and for flight crews through flight deck denial procedures that ensured the safe evacuation of personnel out of Afghanistan. In Kuwait, the 111th Engineer Brigade designed and constructed “Freedom Village,” a holding and processing encampment which supported 5,000 vulnerable Afghans in Kuwait. The 111th planned and oversaw the village construction to include constructing lodging, medical, dining and in and out-processing facilities, and further assisted the out-processing of over 5,400 Afghans through the village, including issuance of Special Immigrant Visas, as well as providing command and control, medical, logistical, and public affairs support.
Lastly, as the COVID-19 global pandemic continued its worldwide impacts, the WVNG remained engaged across West Virginia delivering personal protective equipment (PPE), providing testing, and helping to organize and facilitate vaccine distribution. The Guard remained engaged on all fronts of the pandemic response throughout 2021.
Significant WVNG accomplishments in 2021 include: