BLACKSTONE, Va. - The first group of Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team left for the U.S. Virgin Islands on Sunday from Blackstone Army Airfield in Blackstone, Virginia.
The group joins a multi-state, multi-agency response effort to the recent hurricanes.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe authorized the Virginia National Guard support Sept. 22 to join other state organizations providing assistance in the region.
"I am incredibly proud of how quickly and safely the Soldiers of the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team have come together in order to get much-needed assistance to the U.S. Virgin Islands, and that pride is amplified by the fact that these Soldiers volunteered to go," said Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia. "This has been an extremely complex operation that required the skills and experience from Army and Air Guard personnel from across the state, and a magnificent team effort has pulled together the people and equipment we need to do the mission. In many ways, the most important members of the team that makes all this work are our families and employers. Our Soldiers have left their jobs and their loved ones on very short notice to undertake a noble cause, and they couldn't do that without the critical support at home and at work. I want to extend a very special thanks for their continued support that is so important to what we do."
Advance teams from the 116th have been on the ground since Sept. 18 working with the Virgin Islands National Guard in determining what capabilities are needed and where they need to go.
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.
"I feel privileged to be part of the mission going in to help the citizens of the Virgin Islands," said Lt. Col. Jared Lake, executive officer for the 116th IBCT who departed with the first group. "It is not often that you get the opportunity to do a humanitarian service mission, and everyone is motivated to get there and start helping the Virgin Islands with their recovery."
Based on the current conditions, Lake 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 Hampton Roads, Northern Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley and the Lynchburg / Roanoke area are taking part in the mission. Soldiers from nearly every other major command in the Virginia National Guard are also providing personnel including the Fort Belvoir-based 29th Infantry Division, the Virginia Beach-based 329th Regional Support Group, the Bowling Green-base 91st Cyber Brigade, the Fort Pickett-based Medical Command, the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment as well as Joint Force Headquarters-Virginia and Virginia Air National Guard.
On Sunday, Air National Guard crews from the New York and Kentucky National Guard flying C-130 transport aircraft arrived to transport all the Soldiers and equipment to begin the mission.