Red Horse Serves As 'backbone' of Afghanistan Construction
on Tuesday, 02 June 2009

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U.S. Air Forces Central Public Affairs  
Story by Staff Sgt. Zachary Wilson
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Swiping the sweat, dirt and grime from his face, Tech. Sgt. Michael Stout is dirty. Very dirty. In fact, with the exception of a glimmer of red emerging from the crusted baseball hat on his head, every inch of Stout's body is some shade of the Kandahar terrain he's been working for the past week.

The ubiquitous red hat not only adds a contrast to his physical appearance, it also sets him apart from the other Airmen working at various jobs around Kandahar Air Field.

Stout is a horseman, or a member of the Air Force's Red Horse team, a specialized self-contained engineer unit uniquely situated to deploy anywhere in the world and conduct base build-up operations under austere conditions.

"Right now we are working on 28 projects across Afghanistan," said Maj. Robert Bartlow, the 819th Expeditionary Red Horse Squadron commander. "We provide direct support to [regional command] South as well as [Air Forces Central] tasked Air Force priorities."

Working as the project manager to expand a ramp for MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers at Kandahar, Stout, deployed from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, and works with other Red Horse Airmen to prepare the site for paving by heavy equipment. These Airmen are technically known as pavements and equipment operators, but prefer their unofficial and very fitting moniker, "dirt boys."

"This is a different situation than we're used to" he said, noting the flurry of activity going on at both his site and the neighboring British area that his unit will incorporate into the ramp extension project. "We're used to building, but not with so many other units in the area. Still, this ramp extension has to happen."

When completed, the ramp will allow the 62nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron to accommodate more of the unmanned aerial vehicles and will also provide new work spaces and shelters. The timetable to complete the project is rather short.

"We're looking at having the concrete completed [soon]," said Staff Sgt. Hulon Carter, a dirt boy also deployed from Andersen AFB. "We also have to make sure the new site is enclosed and secure before we start ripping barriers down."

Master Sgt. Andrew Robinson, the project site contracting officer from the 451st Expeditionary Civil Engineering Flight who is deployed from Minot AFB, N.D., said the effort the Red Horse team has put into the ramp expansion reflects the team "The backbone of what we are doing here."It's nice to see them get credit," he said.

The squadron has representatives from Air Force civil engineering career fields as well as several support Airmen. As part of the organization's calling to deploy to remote and far-flung regions across the globe, the Red Horse community ensures they can maintain self-sufficiency.

"We're not just engineers," Bartlow said. "We also have supply, logisticians, security forces, medics, and personnel - we can definitely take care of ourselves."

Responsible for more than 300 people, the squadron supports forward operating bases as well as construction for other services, as in the case of Red Horse engineers assisting Army Soldiers lay more than 700,000 square feet of matting for one of Kandahar Air Field's new ramps, designed to support an Army combat aviation brigade's bed-down of rotary wing assets.

The squadron also features a team of forward-deployable horsemen who travel the country to dig wells at forward bases under construction to provide fresh water in remote locations. The squadron also has to supply those bases with combat logistics patrols made up of members of the Kandahar squadron who convoy Afghanistan's dangerous roads to provide supplies and equipment to engineers in remote areas of southern Afghanistan.

"We're surged to support the build up," the major said, referring to the recent plan to send an additional 19,000 service members to support Operation Enduring Freedom by the end of this year.

The Kandahar-based squadron is made up of a mixture of horsemen from the 819th Red Horse Squadron at Malmstrom AFB, Mont., and the 554th RHS at Andersen AFB. Bartlow's home unit, the 554th, was recently moved to Guam from South Korea, and is currently serving its first combat deployment since the Vietnam War, where it was the first Red Horse squadron deployed into that conflict.

In addition to the Red Horse engineers at Kandahar, the 819th ERHS has detachments present at Bagram Air Field and forward operating bases Tarin Khowt, Dwyer, and Wolverine, where critical construction is also being performed to develop a gravel-mix assault landing strip for C-130s and helipads for helicopters. Red Horse engineers who are forward deployed are also beginning construction on runways at developing bases for C-17 access to include necessary parking aprons for the large aircraft.

With the varied and numerous projects occurring around the theater, Carter just shrugs it off, saying the work is usually the same no matter where he is called to do it.

"It's not that much different from Iraq - I love to do my job," he said.

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Last update: Tuesday, 02 June 2009

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