Under the leadership of Brig. Gen. (MDDF) Lorenza Cooper, Commanding General, Maryland Defense Force (MDDF), the state defense force component has gone through a comprehensive realignment process to ensure that it provides improved support to the Maryland Military Department (MILDEP). This process has included changes and improvements with respect to MDDF culture, training, personnel and operations policies. This transformative process has assisted the MDDF improve its service delivery to the Maryland Military Department while also positioning the MDDF for success in the future.
On the cultural, training and personnel policy front, the MDDF has made a host of changes. The primary focus is continuously recruiting competent people through an organized recruiting effort aligned with the table of organization, job description and MDDF requirements. The MDDF is no longer accepting new recruits where their skills and the needs of MDDF do not align. Additionally, the MDDF has improved training standards, military discipline and its mission centric focus. There has also been a renewed focus on ensuring that MDDF members follow proper military customs, courtesies and professional bearing.
Brig. Gen. (MDDF) Cooper commented, “We want all of our new recruits and current personnel to have emergency management training at the basic level. It’s a requirement for all new recruits to get the Basic Military Emergency Management Specialist (MEMS) Badge. Eventually, all personnel should achieve this certification. Furthermore, our focus on MEMS training strategically aligns with the development of a support element for Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and MILDEP.”
Additional MDDF changes include a reaffirmation of existing standards and a rededication to regular drill participation as the cornerstone of an effective command. The MDDF re-affirmed its retirement age, which allows the MDDF to seamlessly integrate into missions with the National Guard. The MDDF retirement age is 65 and limited waivers will be offered for critical skills requirements. “It’s important to adhere to age, height and weight standards for health reasons as well as because it adds to our overall military effectiveness,” Brig. Gen. Cooper added. The reduction in the headquarters staff and migration of personnel to field units will allow engagement with MILDEP personnel on a more regular basis. “This requires us to meet the highest standards of professionalism”, according to Brig. Gen. (MDDF) Cooper.
“If personnel aren’t coming to drill regularly they are not getting the proper level of training, which means we can’t effectively use them when called to state active duty,” stated Brig. Gen. (MDDF) Cooper. This naturally has led to a right sizing of the MDDF component.
MDDF operations have gone through some changes as well. Brig. Gen. (MDDF) Cooper is planning to add units that can bring more value to MILDEP. One of these units is the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) Support Unit. This unit will consist of 20-30 personnel who can provide direct operational support to MEMA. “If there is an incident, our MEMA support team members can fill in for MEMA staff when necessary on a rotational basis as a force multiplier for MEMA staff.” The MDDF MEMA Support Unit will mirror the MEMA staffing pattern and comprise of trained MEMS qualified personnel that possess the required certifications necessary to fulfill operational roles.
The MDDF is also continuing to develop its Cyber Unit in concert with MILDEP. Maj. Gen. Linda Singh, the adjutant general of Maryland recently launched a Cyber Center of Excellence (COE). This initiative has incorporated Maryland National Guard cyber units (Army & Air), the MDDF Cyber unit and Maryland’s Department of IT (DoIT) in its planning and programming. The MDDF Cyber Unit is now actively engaged in supporting MILDEP in its efforts in establishing the Cyber COE.
The blueprint for the revised operational environment for the MDDF is their new table of organization (TO). “With the approval of the adjutant general, the MDDF has either written or rewritten many duty descriptions and improved rank alignment with their respective duties. We’ve also outlined the requirements necessary to maintain certain billets,” commented Brig. Gen. (MDDF) Cooper. He continued, “Eventually we want to invert our existing organization to bring about a representative number of enlisted personnel with an appropriate number of officers at all ranks. Currently the MDDF is too top heavy. While we understand the professional value, our team needs to consist of a variety of skills in both enlisted and officers; not just doctors, lawyers or professionals. We need both!”
The MDDF has also re-affirmed mission and training procedures within the MDDF. Outside of the state missions and training activities will not be conducted without approval from the Adjutant General, and only then if an official Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) request is approved by the Governor.
Right sizing the organization has optimized the units to leverage better alignment between the MDDF and MILDEP. As an example, the MDDF Judge Advocate Corps (JAC) had ballooned to over 40 officers in recent years when their tempo was high due to the pace of deployments. The Judge Advocate Corps support to MILDEP supporting mission requests from the Joint Staff or MILDEP has diminished significantly. “The MDDF may have needed a large JAC in the past, however the needs are different today and deployment tempo has changed. Therefore, the JAC has been streamlined significantly,” added Brig. Gen. (MDDF) Cooper.
The MDDF realignment has not gone unnoticed. “During my recent tenure, we have really tried to rededicate the MDDF to its core mission which is providing technical competent support to MILDEP,” stated Brig. Gen. (MDDF) Cooper. He continued, “Our transformative changes have increased cooperation at the MILDEP senior leadership level. The result of all these changes is that we have gained a lot of support from the adjutant general.” In 2016, the MDDF volunteered over 50,000 man hours to the State of Maryland valued at $3.1 million dollars. Brig. Gen. (MDDF) Cooper concluded by saying, “Continuous improvement is very important and the overall goal is to make us even better going forward.” The Maryland Defense Force (MDDF) is the State’s uniformed volunteer military unit providing professional and technical assistance to the Maryland Military Department. Established in 1917, the MDDF consists of nearly 200 personnel who perform legal, engineering, finance, medical, chaplain, field support and ceremonial services for the State of Maryland.