National Guard June 2011 : Page 40

G UARD R OOTS : U.S. V IRGIN I SLANDS “When I joined the Guard 26 years ago, only about 10 or 12 of us were veterans,” he says. “Today, we have 664 veterans who have served during recent years. That’s about 80 percent of our force. We feel that because of the tours the troops went on, they have a fire within their hearts, especially for the territo-rial mission.” The 14 Army Guard units are made up of military police, public affairs, medical, main-tenance and other support personnel. They assist with homeland security issues vital to V.I.’s 110,000 people, especially counterdrug operations, Rivera says. The V.I. Guard has come a long way since 113 soldiers, many of them former Army Re-M EDICAL A ID First Lt. Arnelle Lewis, a nurse with the Virgin Islands servists, stood up as a Headquarters Detach-Army Guard, takes a Guatemalan boy’s temperature during a medical-readiness training exercise in Santa Cruz Balanya, Guatemala, in 2007. ment and the 661st Military Police Company in 1973 under Melvin Evans, the territory’s The V.I. Air National Guard, whose only unit is the first popularly elected governor. 57-member 285th Combat Communications Squadron, is It had taken 56 years to get to that point. The U.S. paid contemplating a new future after 31 years. Denmark $25 million in 1917 for what was then called the “We’ve asked to become a civil engineer squadron. That’s Danish West Indies because the Wilson Administration feared the direction we’d like to go,” explains Lt. Col. William Germany would occupy the islands and build a naval or sub-Sherrill, director of operations. “But our days as a combat marine base to attack shipping in the Atlantic and Caribbean. communications unit will end after this year’s hurricane The Navy administered the territory until 1931. Then it season. They’ve already started packing the equipment.” was transferred to the Interior Department. The unit lost out when the Air Guard’s combat commu-nications squadrons were reduced from 23 to 18, explained N EW D IGS The Army Reserve was the standing military force until Maj. Glenda Mathurin-Lee, the squadron’s commander. the Guard was created in 1973. Lt. Col. Leayle Galiber was It was established as a flight of one officer and five enlisted people in February 1980. The territory’s Air Guard the acting adjutant general until Col. Gerard James, an Army Reserve officer, was appointed adjutant general the headquarters was activated three years later, and the $1.4 following year. million Air National Guard station on St. Croix was dedi-At 38 years old, America’s second youngest Guard cated in October 1986. The 285th was elevated to squad-force—after Guam—is displaying the trappings of maturity. ron status in July 1996. A new $22 million, 42,500-square-foot complex for its It earned annual Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards 210th Regional Training Institute is under construction on from 1989 to 1991 and for the period from September St. Croix. A $26 million, 60,000-square-foot joint-forces 1995 to August 1997. It was assigned to the Air Force headquarters will be built at the same centralized com-Space Command when it was ordered to close its doors. pound. Both are expected to be finished by the middle of Hurricane Hugo tested the 285th. The Air Guard unit the decade, said Col. Aubrey Ruan, chief of the joint staff. remained the only operational Guard facility on the island With those new facilities and its new Air Guard mis-and the only official communications link between V.I. and sion, the Virgin Islands Guard could be elevated to an even the U.S. mainland. The Federal Emergency Management higher level of respectability and responsibility. That would Agency and other federal agencies relied on its services. validate the adjutant general’s observation that V.I. Guard Personnel from the 285th have served in Afghanistan, members “can really, really perform way beyond their Iraq, Haiti, on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, and expectations.” along the Southwest border during Operation Jump Start. The experience of most of its soldiers and airmen has Bob Haskell is a retired Maine Army National Guard master benefited the entire force and the territory, says Rivera, a sergeant and a freelance journalist in Falmouth, Mass. He may 31-year military man and Vietnam veteran who has been be contacted at magazine@ngaus.org. V.I.’s adjutant general for four years. 40 Kaye Richey | Na tional Guard

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