203rd RED HORSE Airmen depart for federal deployment

  • Published
  • By Staff Reports, Virginia National Guard
  • 203rd RED HORSE

Virginia National Guard Airmen assigned to the Virginia Beach-based 203rd Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers, 192nd Wing made final preparations and departed for an overseas federal active duty deployment Sept. 12, 2020, at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach, Virginia. 

Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, visited with Airmen Sept. 9, and recognized outstanding Airmen and offered words of encouragement.

RED HORSE units provide highly mobile civil engineering teams to support contingency and special operations worldwide. They are self-sufficient with rapid response capabilities conducting independent operations in remote, high-threat environments. They can create or repair runways and erect permanent structures in a matter of weeks from concept and design to engineering and construction.

The squadron held a four-day field training exercise in November 2019, where Airmen across more than 20 specialties trained for tasks to help prepare for the current deployment.

“The main goal is just for each [job specialty] to experience what they will do in a deployed environment,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey E. Getz, 203rd RED HORSE Squadron commander. “When we are tasked for a real world deployment, they have experience that helps us get ready [and] hit the ground running and not have to do training once we’re on site, so we’re prepared for our wartime mission.”

More than 150 Airmen participated in the exercise which simulated a deployed environment with a command center and three additional locations acted as off-site operating bases.

“You give these guys a book of matches and they’ll build you a house,” said Command Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Amburn, 192nd Wing command chief. 

The squadron returned from their last federal active duty mobilization in October 2016 after spending eight months in Southwest Asia. During the deployment, 203rd RED HORSE Airmen completed 35 projects at 11 different locations in seven countries in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and Operation Inherent Resolve.

The squadron also conducted deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003, 2006 and 2011.

While deployed in 2016, the Airmen of the 203rd served under the 557th Expeditionary RED HORSE, as part of the 1st Expeditionary Civil Engineering Group, an organization made of up more than 600 personnel from the 203rd and other RED HORSE and Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force, or PRIME BEEF, units that was a mix of active duty and Air National Guard.

The 1st ECEG was headquartered in Southwest Asia and was responsible for providing theater engineer support for vertical and horizontal construction missions and projects that enhanced operations, safety and quality of life for Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines in the Central Command area of operations.

During the rotation, the 557th ERHS completed 35 projects valued at more than $34 million. The unit’s highest priorities were upgrading and expanding airfield pavement, bed down missions for aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles, construction of several munitions storage areas, and security improvements to remote outposts. They utilized the full range of special construction capabilities including K-Span design and construction, erection of expeditionary shelter systems, erection of pre-engineered buildings, site development, asphalt, concrete and gravel pavements and well drilling operations.

The 203rd RHS stood up in January 1985, and current and former members celebrated the unit’s 30th anniversary Aug. 8, 2015. 

“The 203rd has established a tremendous reputation, not only in the Guard, but amongst our active duty RED HORSE counterparts as well,” said Col. Stock Dinsmore, then a lieutenant colonel and commander of the 203rd. “We’ve conducted missions and put our stamp on 10 different states and 17 countries around the world, covering three quarters of the globe, from the Middle East to Guam. I think we’ve established ourselves as a leader among the RED HORSE and engineering community.”

The ceremony also included a moment of silence for the 18 Airmen of the 203rd RED HORSE killed in a plane crash March 3, 2001, alongside three aviators from the Florida Army National Guard’s Detachment 1, 171st Aviation Battalion when the C-23 Sherpa they were flying in crashed in a cotton field near Unadilla, Georgia. The 203rd members were returning home after completing a two-week military construction project at Hurlburt Field, Florida. It was the worst loss of life in the Virginia National Guard since World War II.

Airmen of the 203rd RED HORSE have lent their skills and expertise to multiple projects to support the Virginia Army National Guard and the Commonwealth of Virginia.

For two weeks late July and early August 2020, 203rd RED HORSE Airmen completed several improvement projects at the Virginia National Guard’s Army Aviation Support Facility in Sandston, Virginia, where they removed a large earthen berm to make room for aviators to conduct Army Combat Fitness Tests, as well as made some improvements to the facility’s flight line. 

For the berm removal, the engineers used heavy equipment including a backhoe, a front loader and an excavator to remove approximately 4,000 tons of earth. Once the opened-up space is graded and planted, the result will be a new area that allows Aviators at the AASF to exercise and conduct the ACFT, according to Col. William X. Taylor, Virginia’s state aviation officer and commander of the VNG’s Army Aviation Support Facility. 

As Virginia National Guard Soldiers were preparing to deploy to the U.S. Virgin Islands in September 2017 to join a multi-state, multi-agency hurricane response effort, an air transportation craftsman from the 203rd helped unit movement personnel conduct final technical inspections on all the vehicles and pallets for shipment.

In July and August 2014, 203rd RED HORSE Airmen conducted engineer projects to construct a pavilion at the Virginia Military Institute and reconstruct a runway at Fort A. P. Hill. The projects provided opportunities for the Air Guard engineers to conduct real-world training that benefited both communities.

Approximately 48 Airmen from the 203rd constructed the pavilion as part of an Innovative Readiness Training project during their annual training for VMI at McKethan Park in Lexington. Building on the concrete pads they laid during the first phase of the project last year, the Airmen worked with local contractors and several VMI students to complete a pavilion with a two-sided fireplace and a nearby latrine.

During the same time period as the project was underway in Lexington, about 38 Airmen from the 203rd reconstructed a runway at Finnegan Airfield unmanned aircraft system training site at Fort A.P. Hill. The project included removing the existing runway, leveling the grade of the runway to meet specifications, laying asphalt upon the completed runway subgrade and improving the drainage along the sides of the runway. The work included approximately 4,388 man-hours, and the removal of 1,500 tons of existing asphalt, grading and placement of 2,500 tons of stone base course, and installing 1,250 tons of pavement.