V.I. National Guard cuts ribbon on new headquarters

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ST. CROIX - On a perfect spring day with gentle breezes rolling from the mountains that created the backdrop for the yellow building, the Virgin Islands National Guard held its dedication ceremony and ribbon-cutting for the new Joint Force Headquarters building in Estate Bethlehem on Thursday.

The V.I. National Guard received $25 million in congressional funding authorizing the construction project in January 2011. The groundbreaking ceremony was Jan. 18, 2012. The building allows the National Guard to move from its current location in a leased facility at the O'Neal Building at Five Corners, where it has been since 1996.

The new facility has been named in honor of Brig. Gen. Gerard "Luz" James Sr., who is recognized as the territory's first federally recognized adjutant general.

The 57,000-square-foot Joint Force Headquarters includes conference rooms, office space and cubicles for more than 120 employees, a lobby and a command suite, and was constructed primarily by Tip Top Construction.

Government officials, James' family, active and retired guardsmen and other supporters of the V.I. National Guard were in attendance at the ceremony that began under tents in the east parking lot of the facility. The ceremony then moved inside for the unveiling of a portrait and plaque in James' honor that hangs overlooking the main entranceway, where guided tours of the facility began Thursday.

Adjutant Gen. Renaldo Rivera said in his remarks that the National Guard is appreciative of the sacrifices and contributions that James has made and how far the organization has come since his leadership.

"This building has been a long time coming," Rivera said. "We have moved from Golden Rock to the Airport to Five Corners, all in rented spaces since the '70s, and now we have a home of our own for the future."

Rivera said the construction and dedication of the building is evidence that the V.I. National Guard will continue to meet the needs of the community and the territory.

Gov. John deJongh Jr. said that during a time of sequestration and budget cuts, the federal government had still seen it as important to continue to invest in the Caribbean. He said he hopes that the attention continues and that soon the V.I. Air National Guard will be able to establish a general in the territory.

James' nephew, Dodson James, said his uncle was a great man who ran the National Guard with pride and distinction. He said Gerard James took his job seriously and operated with great effectiveness, not because he was the first federally recognized adjutant general but because he was a proud Virgin Islander and a proud soldier.

"Our entire family feels great about this honor and about his accomplishments, and we will be proud for the rest of our lives," Dodson James said.

Gerard James was born in 1925 and grew up on St. Croix, furthering his education there and abroad. He returned and served as a science and mathematics instructor at Frederiksted Junior High School and also as a chemistry teacher at Christiansted High School. Later he obtained a juris doctorate from Howard University.

James joined the U.S. Army and scored a number of firsts in his lifetime. He was also the first adjutant general of African descent to serve in the U.S. Army National Guard. He served as adjutant general from 1974-76 and was elected to the 12th Legislature.

James was also known as a mentor, Boy Scout leader, attorney, senator, businessman, musician and radio personality. He died in 2006 at the age of 80 and was buried with full military honors.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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