RED HORSE: A legacy of leaving it better than how they found it
By Tech. Sgt. Christopher Boitz, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing
/ Published August 18, 2015
SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- As the sun sets and stars begin to glow in the night sky, a group of engineers arrive at their construction site. Generator powered lights cause the darkness surrounding the unfinished structure to slowly recede.
The engineers each grab a red hard hat and huddle around the project manager’s office to begin preparations for the evening shift.
They appear just like any other civil engineer unit, however, a closer look reveals something different from the civil engineers most are accustomed to seeing. The unit patch fixed on their hard hats features a horse atop a piece of heavy equipment blazing a path forward. It represents the men and women of the 557th Expeditionary RED HORSE Squadron.
“RED HORSE is an agile unit that can be picked up and dropped off wherever U.S. Air Forces Central Command needs us to be,” said Capt. John, the 557th ERHS operations flight commander. “We have our own equipment, personnel, along with a support package."
The first rapid engineer deployable heavy operational repair squadron engineer (RED HORSE) units were activated in 1966 as the Air Force’s combat construction team. Today, the 557th ERHS carries on that legacy.
RED HORSE is a self-sustaining, mobile, heavy construction squadron capable of rapid response and independent operations in remote, high-threat environments worldwide.
When expeditionary RED HORSE units are not building runways or setting up bare bases, they assist air expeditionary wings across the area of responsibility with construction projects.
“AFCENT looks across the AOR at projects that need to be completed to meet certain goals,” John said. “Sometimes it’s not feasible to bring on a local contractor to build these projects. RED HORSE can do it at a lower cost.”
Currently, the 557th ERHS is constructing four new buildings on base: a dining facility, a communication facility, a military working dog kennel, and a headquarters facility for the 380th Expeditionary Mission Support Group.
Projects like these couldn’t be completed without the NCOs performing as project managers, a position usually held by senior NCO’s.
“I have an 11-man team and they’re absolutely exceptional engineers. This building could not be done without them,” said Tech. Sgt. Shannon, a 557th ERHS project manager. “A lot of responsibility is entrusted to the junior NCOs and Airmen. We face a lot of obstacles out here getting these projects completed, but we’re all on the same page and do a great job working together.”
The makeup of Shannon’s team is diverse, featuring a blend of several Air Force specialties which complement one another. When there aren’t enough uniquely skilled hands to complete a specific task, the other team members step in to fill the gap.
“It’s a joint effort in RED HORSE; we all work together. We have dirt boys hanging dry wall, structural craftsmen pulling electrical cable, and heating and ventilation craftsmen assisting with drop ceilings,” Shannon said. “We’re all one team. You can’t just do your specialty, you have to be willing to help out and assist others. You have to be versatile--and we are.”
The 9,000-square foot dining facility that Shannon and her RED HORSE team are constructing will replace an aging tent-based structure. It’s one of many projects the 557th ERHS are working on which improve the quality of life for deployed service members.
“Starting a project from the ground up, you have to go in with an open mind and take care of business. We’re here to leave it better than how we found it,” Shannon said. “It’s all about making sure someone gets what they need in order to do their job. It can change the attitude of everyone and they can focus on doing the mission.”
Leaving places better than they found it is a staple in the RED HORSE community. Every member of the team knows the impact of what it means to others when a structure is completed. It’s the driving force behind the motivation and comradery that pushes the engineers to achieve success.
“The way we work together, it’s hard not to thrive off of what the guy beside you is doing,” said Senior Airman Anthony, a 557th ERHS structural apprentice. “You try to do everything on the job better. We’re thriving off each other’s successes and accomplishments. Even if there is a problem, we make the best of it and have fun doing what we are here to do.”
Their calling card, an imprinted outline of their patch left on completed projects, is a reminder to deployed service members that when RED HORSE is on the job they can expect things to improve.
“When people see the red hard hats, they know life is going to get better. Projects are going to get done, that’s what we do,” John said. “My (Airmen) love to work, they want to be here and they want to be actively engaged. These projects are not only making people’s lives better, they are improving the way Airmen support combat operations. That’s why we’re here.”
(Editor’s note: Due to safety and security reasons, last names were removed.)