by Gene Van Deventer
Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command
9/27/2012 - Citizen Airman/Oct. 2012 -- With the United States entering World War II in 1941, the military quickly identified the need to establish naval/maritime construction battalions in order to build bare-base field installations around the globe.
Members assigned to these U.S. Navy mobile construction units became known as "Seabees," the name taken from the first letters of the words "construction battalion." Under austere combat conditions, these engineering Sailors built and repaired airfields, landing docks, roadways and encampments, significantly improving the country's power projection and sustainment in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of operations.
But they did so at a price. More than 275 Seabees, armed and fighting to defend what they built, were killed in combat during World War II.
In the 1960s, the Air Force faced similar expeditionary engineering challenges, lacking power projection capabilities that could reach anywhere in the world that required U.S. presence. In mid-1965, with the United States deeply involved in the Vietnam War, the secretary of defense and the secretary of the Air Force sought to establish mobile engineering units -- manned, trained and equipped to perform facility and airfield construction and heavy repair as hot spots developed.
With the activation of two unique organizations, the 554th and 555th Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers, and their ultimate initial deployment to Southeast Asia in 1966, the Air Force acquired a service power projection capability that until then did not exist.
Each RED HORSE squadron was organized as a mobile, rapid-response, self-contained unit possessing 404 Airmen being able to perform a wide range of construction and heavy repair functions that exceeded normal civil engineer unit capabilities. Performing as a stand-alone operation, the squadrons' organic capabilities included medical, food service, vehicle and equipment maintenance, logistics, and other specialties. Their range of duties encompassed major projects such as water-well drilling, explosive demolition, facility erection, concrete and asphalt paving, mine clearing, and quarry operations. RED HORSE squadrons possessed not only the heavy equipment needed to clear woodlands and wilderness terrain but the skilled operators to match.
Today, the total Air Force maintains 14 RED HORSE units. The active duty has four units, the Air National Guard five and the Air Force Reserve Command five. AFRC units are the 307th at Barksdale Air Force Base, La.; 555th at Nellis AFB, Nev.; 556th at Hurlburt Field, Fla., 560th at Joint Base Charleston, S.C.; and 567th at Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C. Within AFRC, the average RED HORSE squadron comprises 209 positions, encompassing many of the specialties that were in the original 1960s configuration.
With the latest AFRC reorganization that calls for the inactivation of regional support
groups, a new civil engineer group was activated with all command RED HORSE squadrons falling under its command and control. The 622nd CEG will operate from Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga.,
Clyde Wilkins of Headquarters AFRC's Installations and Mission Support Directorate at Robins AFB, Ga., describes the new CEG organization as being a direct reporting unit to the 22nd Air Force commander.
"In addition to the RED HORSE squadrons, three civil engineer flights will also fall under the auspices of the group," Wilkins said. "These senior staff augmentation flights (also referred to as S-teams) are typically composed of approximately 35 experienced members prepared to support headquarters staffs for contingency operations worldwide."
The Air Force's Total Force Initiative has successfully paired active-duty and air reserve component organizations across many functional lines. RED HORSE is no exception. Today, at deployed sites around the globe, there are Air Force units consisting of all Air Force personnel segments and statuses, and a person would be hard-pressed to identify who is who based on their skills and performance capability.
Through the summer months of 2011, the 555th and the 556th RED HORSE units rotationally deployed in support of the New Horizons exercise in Suriname. The active-duty 820th RED HORSE at Nellis AFB was the overall lead for this deployment, with the two AFRC units being instrumental in the construction of a 3,360-square-foot schoolhouse and a 1,680-square-foot clinic.
All five AFRC RED HORSE squadrons are on tap this year for deployment duties at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., to assist the 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron in the construction of a new state-of-the-art operational readiness inspection site. The Reserve portion of this venture involves the construction of two 1,664-square-foot shower/shave/latrine facilities, two 5,000-square-foot warehouse buildings, and approximately 2,100 linear feet of asphalt roads.
By the end of this year, approximately 300 AFRC Airmen, working in two-week rotations, will have the site finished, which will immensely aid the readiness inspection evaluations that will take place there.
In early May of this year, at Hurlburt Field, a memorial park designed and built by members of both the active-duty 823rd and AFRC's 556th RED HORSE units was dedicated as a truly outward and visible sign of a successful total force relationship. RED HORSE Unity Park, located next to the 823rd RED HORSE headquarters, was built to reflect the strong working relationship of these two Air Force units while paying homage to the units' fallen in the service to their nation. The memorial, built in the shape of a horseshoe, surrounds a flagpole and gleaming red horse reared on its hind legs prepared to defend its turf. ... a symbol of strength, mobility and speed.
The two squadrons' collaborative efforts provided training for nearly 90 RED HORSE personnel from 12 career fields, affecting 291 core tasks accomplished in 6,500 man-hours. As a lasting tribute, the names of nine of the units' fallen comrades from the Vietnam time period to present are now displayed on a remembrance wall within the park.
AFRC RED HORSE units are fully engaged in the joint environment, having for years now successfully supported coalition forces across Southwest Asia and other deployment locations worldwide. Partnering with the U.S. Navy Seabees and the U.S. Army's Corps of Engineers, these units help present the very best heavy-duty and specialized engineering skills in support of U.S. military personnel and missions.
Evidence of this Total Force Initiative engagement was the 567th RED HORSE unit's recent deployment to U.S. Central Command. Col. Timothy Lamb, commander of the 567th, said nearly 100 members of the unit teamed up with the active-duty's 820th on this deployment. The unit supplemented both the 1st Expeditionary RED HORSE Group and the 557th and 809th Expeditionary RED HORSE Squadrons performing successfully in leadership and tactical support positions throughout the CENTCOM area of responsibility.
The command's RED HORSE units have a proud and distinguished history of providing support, having been positioned at the "tip of the spear" from the onset -- building, establishing and defending resources and Airmen across the globe. The "HORSE" epitomizes persistence, quality and dominance; ready then, ready now and ready always.
(A frequent contributor to Citizen Airman magazine, Van Deventer is assigned to the Expeditionary Combat Support Division of the Installation and Mission Support Directorate at HQ AFRC.)