COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
Years ago, the 14th Civil Engineer Squadron at Columbus Air Force Base transitioned from being made of mostly active-duty uniformed service members to now mostly government and contracted positions.
While these civilian Airmen and contractors help strengthen the base’s local community ties, when the mission calls for specifically trained professionals, they call REDHORSE, the Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron, Engineering.
REDHORSE units are trained and equipped to make heavy repairs, upgrade airfields and facilities, and support weapons systems deployment to theaters of operations.
In Southwest Asia, Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force, or Prime BEEF, teams fulfilled a need for short term construction capabilities. However, the Air Force needed a stable and longer term heavy repair capability. The response was to organize two 400-man heavy repair squadrons. These units, the 555th and the 554th Civil Engineer Squadrons, were then activated in October 1965.
After nine weeks of training at Cannon AFB, New Mexico, the 555th CES was deployed to Cam Ranh Bay Air Base and the 554th to Phan Rang AB in Vietnam.
Upon arrival in Vietnam, REDHORSE repaired aluminum matting runways, drilled wells to obtain potable water, quarried and crushed stone for roads and runways, repaired mortar damage caused by enemy attacks, constructed and upgraded operational facilities and housing, erected aircraft revetments, and installed aircraft arresting barriers and airfield lighting systems.
By 1967, six REDHORSE squadrons had been trained, organized, and deployed to Southeast Asia; five to South Vietnam and one to Thailand. At the peak of their activity, REDHORSE’ total strength reached 2,400 military and more than 6,000 Vietnamese and Thai nationals.
Currently, Airmen from the 823rd REDHORSE, Hurlburt Field, Florida, are visiting Columbus AFB to complete two separate projects.
“Here the projects we are working on are a mill and repave and a bottom-up construction,” said Master Sgt. Wesley McCord, 823rd REDHORSE Superintendent of Heavy Repair. “This means we will be putting in roads where none existed before.”
REDHORSE is paving roads on the flightline to reduce traffic, resulting in fewer accidents and expedited traffic.
“They are putting in a road between Radio Select Unit three and six and one and four,” said Ben Sala, 14th CES, Construction Manager. “This will reduce the amount of taxiway and runway incursions by 80 percent. With those two roads, there will be zero maintenance traffic having to cross to the next runway.”
The other project REDHORSE is set to work on is paving Perimeter Road. Starting where the road bends toward the perimeter before the SAC Lake area, and continuing as far as the north gate.
“Our long-term goal is to eventually have Perimeter Road repaved the entire way around,” Sala said. “Nothing is set in stone, but we would like to get REDHORSE back out here to finish up the road.”
Airmen from the 823rd work on these sorts of projects to meet training requirements, prepare for deployments and to save Air Force money by using Airmen rather than paying contractors in some cases.
“A majority of our work is actually stateside,” McCord said. “They serve as troop training projects. Without these kinds of ventures, our new Airmen coming in would have no on-the-job training. The difference between stateside and overseas is stateside work is all training for doing it in a deployed or overseas location.”
REDHORSE estimates the RSU project will be complete within two weeks. The Perimeter Road paving will take approximately 45 days beginning July 18.