Dignitaries and family members came together Thursday at the Estate Bethlehem armory to dedicate the V.I. National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters to the territory’s first adjutant general and the nation’s first African-American Army National Guard adjutant general, Gerard “Luz” James Sr.
VING was granted congressional funding for the joint headquarters facility in January 2011 and the $20 million contract was awarded to local contractor, Tip Top Construction. The groundbreaking was in January 2012 for the 57,439 square foot, two-story building.
The headquarters building will contain offices for Maj. Gen. Renaldo Rivera and his staff as well as 120 personnel serving the Army and Air National Guard. In additional to dozens of work cubicles, there is an assembly hall, a conference room, class and break rooms, and storage facilities.
During the ceremony, Gov. John deJongh Jr. thanked those involved in planning and constructing the headquarters building and pointed out that, despite fiscal cuts, the new facility is evidence that the U.S. is “interested in the Caribbean.”
He said the federal government recognizes the “young people engaged and committed to their homeland.” St. Croix and the territory are important “strategic advantages” for the country, he added.
Rivera talked about the history of the V.I. Guard and its various locations on St. Croix. He said the new facility would “foster esprit d’corps.” The facility will be cared for and used in the manner befitting the soldiers, who are the “most precious resource,” he said.
“We must continue to evolve in response to our environment,” Rivera said.
Rivera told the Source it is important that VING finally owns its facility. The building will not only accommodate command staff but also will be used to prepare soldiers for war assignments and disaster response. Last week and this week, groups from Caricom nations have traveled to the Regional Training Institute for training workshops, he said.
“We are a very, very proud unit to assist in any request,” Rivera said.
Since federal recognition in 1973, VING has moved from three sites in Christiansted to the Henry Rohlsen Airport and again to the O’Neal building in Five Corners. All were leased facilities.
Also speaking during the ceremony, Virgin Brown, civilian aide to the secretary of the U.S. Army, commended the men and women of VING for their service.
Lenny James, representing Delegate Donna M. Christensen, said it was an “exciting day for St. Croix and the V.I. National Guard.”
Gerard James graduated from Christiansted High School in 1944 and earned two degrees at Howard University before being commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army. In 1952, he resigned his army commission and established the Army Reserve in the Virgin Islands, where he rose to the rank of colonel.
After retiring in 1976, James served as a St. Croix senator and founded Boy Scout Troop 151. James was promoted posthumously on Oct. 14, 2006, to brigadier general, which coincided with VING’s 33rd birthday.
James’s widow, Asta, and other family members, including former Sen. Neville James and Dodson James, St. Croix administrator, sat in the front row during the dedication.
Dodson James spoke on behalf of the family and said his great uncle would be “honored and proud” of the recognition.
“He ran the National Guard with distinction. He took great pride because he was doing something for his home,” James said. “We’re going to be proud for the rest of our lives.”
The family, dignitaries and media, led by VING personnel, toured the facility after the ceremony.
“It’s a beautiful building. It makes me want to enlist,” Sen. Sammuel Sanes said.