The West Virginia National Guard closed out 2023 with numerous significant accomplishments, including homeland and emergency response missions, deployments around the globe, and sustained activation supporting West Virginia agencies at the direction of Gov. Jim Justice.
Throughout the past year, the WVNG maintained an aggressive domestic operations tempo, from deployments to support Operation Lone Star in Texas to providing staffing assistance to the West Virginia Department of Corrections, Regional Jail Authority and Division of Juvenile Services, to supporting major events such as the State of the Union and the 2023 National Jamboree, West Virginia Soldiers and Airmen were ready and responsive when needed.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the men and women representing our One Guard family who stepped up in 2023 to answer the call time and time again,” stated Maj. Gen. Bill Crane, Adjutant General of the West Virginia National Guard. “We celebrated success on a number of fronts to include international support, domestic response, partnership development, emergency planning, retiree/veteran outreach, and modernization and readiness. We are looking forward to delivering accomplishments in 2024 to the citizens of West Virginia as your National Guard.”
Significant WVNG accomplishments in 2023 included, but were not limited to:
• More than 400 WVNG Soldiers and Airmen served overseas during 2023, including small unit deployments and exercise support for combatant commands, NATO and other foreign allies. Soldiers from the 156th Military Police Detachment deployed to and safely returned from Jordan in support of Operation Spartan Shield.
• Domestically, more than 475 members of the WVNG’s participated in state response missions in West Virginia, Ohio, and Texas to include response efforts for a large-scale train derailment, assisting citizens of Charleston’s West Side community during an extended natural gas outage, providing staffing assistance to the West Virginia Department of Corrections and a deployment to Texas providing direct support to Operation Lone Star to assist in border security operations.
• Aviators and support personnel with Company C, 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion, and Company B, 1-224th Security and Support Aviation Battalion, deployed to the Southeastern border as a part of the Department of Defense’s Joint Task Force – West, where their operation continues.
• A number of WVNG units, both Army and Air National Guard, participated in exercises around the world to support allies and partners in Europe, the Black Sea and Nordic regions, Peru, Antarctica and Qatar.
• The 130th Airlift Wing flew the first all-female aircrew sortie in the unit’s 63-year history. Lt. Col. Kristen Hoeckel and Maj. Kelly Farris piloted a route from Charleston, West Virginia to Naval Air Station Key West, Florida. Chief Master Sgt. Debbie Turrill, Technical Sgt. Emily Knight and Technical Sgt. Autumn Davis served as loadmasters.
• Twenty-seven Airmen from the 167th Airlift Wing were awarded the Air Medal, presented for single acts of heroism or meritorious achievements, while participating in aerial flight, due to their efforts supporting Operation Allies Refuge (OAR), the August 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan. The crew members performed under hostile fire, delivered food and water, and airlifted more than 1,100 people to safety. An additional 14 Airmen on two other aircrews were presented with Air and Space Commendation Medals for conducting numerous aeromedical evacuation missions and transporting more than 450 evacuees to various safe locations.
• Through the State Partnership Program, the WVNG conducted 31 engagements with the Peruvian Armed Forces and 22 engagements with the Qatari Armed Forces. These exchanges included training and knowledge sharing in disaster response, cyber defense, special operations, engineering, professional development and interoperability.
• A team of WVNG Soldiers and Airmen representing the WV-led U.S. team finished 16th in the world’s largest international cyber defense exercise, Locked Shields 2023. The exercise was run virtually by the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence and hosted in West Virginia. A legal team, comprised of members of the West Virginia Army National Guard, 130th Airlift Wing, and U.S. Army, finished 7th.
• The West Virginia National Guard relaunched the Ridge Runner Irregular Warfare Program in 2023 which brought in $3 million in Congressional funding and supports 24 full time jobs. This program has trained more than 500 special operations and conventional forces from the U.S., allied and partner nations in irregular warfare and contributed an additional $2.2 million in economic impact to the state.
• More than 580 members of the WVNG supported the 2023 National Scout Jamboree which saw more than 15,800 Scouts visiting Southern West Virginia in July.
• Company C, 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion, located in Williamstown, West Virginia, completed fielding of six new HH-60M Black Hawk helicopters designed to support aerial medical and ambulatory patient transport medical evacuation services.
• The Counter Drug Program provided analysis and support to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies throughout 2023 resulting in the seizure and/or eradication more than $6.6 million dollars of methamphetamine, crack cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, marijuana, and opium.
• The Drug Demand Reduction program, in coordination with the Department of Education’s Common Ground program, was active in Berkeley, Jefferson, Morgan, Kanawha, Putnam and Wayne counties in 2023, reaching more than 5,900 students in 30 schools.
• The West Virginia Army National Guard (WVARNG) received the U.S. Army National Guard’s top environmental award.
• The Camp Dawson Training Center located in Preston County supported training for more than 128,900 personnel in 2023 and executed more than $4.7 million dollars in sustainment, restoration, and modernization funds to improve facilities.
• The Fixed Wing Army National Guard Aviation Training Site (FWAATS) trained 84 Army aviators and will begin training U.S. Navy pilots in 2024.
• The West Virginia Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention Battalion received national recognition for having three of the top ten recruiters in the small state category nationwide.
• Teams with the Army Interagency Training and Education Center (AITEC) units trained more than 7,650 Soldiers and Airmen to effectively perform domestic response operations, conducted more than 100 total infrastructure assessments around the United States and territories, and conducted more than 600 counter-improvised explosive device training courses with more than 9,700 participants from 37 states and territories.
• The WVNG hosted its second annual Retiree Appreciation Day where hundreds of veterans from all branches were in attendance and were able to get updated medical screenings, ID cards, legal assistance, learn more about retirement benefits, visit with dozens of vendors and agency representatives, and enjoy the camaraderie and fellowship that comes from service.
• Spc. Bret Williams, a combat engineer carpentry and masonry specialist with the 922nd Engineer Det., represented West Virginia in the national best warrior competition in Alaska. Based on his performance, he was selected to join the Army Guard Best Squad team representing the entire National Guard at the national Army Best Squad competition.
• Cpt. Richard Payne, an administration officer with the WVNG’s 197th Regional Training Institute, was awarded the prestigious Gen. Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award promoting and sustaining effective junior officer leadership in the Army. In 2023, 13 active duty, seven Army National Guard, and seven Army Reserve and warrant officers were selected through a board process for this honor.
• The Patriot Guardens program continued to expand, securing eight new grants, cooperative agreements, and sub-awards totaling $1.64 million. This led to significant staff expansion to support 16 full-time and 11 part-time employees and reached more than 4,180 participants for in-person livestock, poultry, plant production, homesteading, and agribusiness workshops, driving agricultural economic opportunities for veterans and their families.
• The Jobs & Hope WV – WorkForce WV Employment Program graduated 60 participants from seven Heavy Equipment Operator Course in 2023, including 48 Jobs and Hope participants and 12 Mountaineer Jobs ChalleNGe Program cadets. Additionally, 37 West Virginia Department of Highways employees were certified to operate dozers and boom mowers through this collaborative, money-saving opportunity.
• The Future Leaders Program, a Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps alternative, expanded to 15 high schools in eight counties during 2023, enrolling 988 students. The program maintained a 99% graduation rate for participating seniors and FLP schools completed more than 550 hours of community service.
• The West Virginia STARBASE programs in Charleston and Martinsburg hosted a combined 173 academies for 5th grade students in Kanawha, Putnam, Berkeley, and Jefferson counties, with more than 4,000 students participating in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education program.
• The Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy programs completed two classes each at both its north and south campuses, bringing the total of cadets who have graduated the program since its inception in 1993 to more than 5,600 with over 2,300 earning their high school diploma.