819th RED HORSE Airmen design, build assault landing strip at FOB Dwyer
on Saturday, 05 September 2009

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by Capt. Vincent Rea
819th RED HORSE Squadron

9/3/2009 - MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- When the morning sun has fully breached the horizon on Forward Operating Base Dwyer, it is already 115 degrees Fahrenheit. The small, formerly British post in southern Afghanistan hosts a team of Airmen as they labor in the desert. Winds howl at 35 kilometers per hour across open acres of land sending dust throughout the work sites where a $911,000 air strip has been constructed. 

It's not abnormal for visibility to be less than 50 feet on the new 4,300-foot flight line. In this environment, the 809th Expeditionary RED HORSE Squadron has accomplished a task no previous RED HORSE unit has. 

They have repaired or expanded assault strips throughout the world during both training exercises and deployments. However, this is the first time they have completed an assault strip with a semi-prepared surface comprised of existing soil, from the design table, through construction and directly into operational use. 

"This assault strip supports the ongoing fight the Marines are engaged in," said Col. Terry Watkins, 809th ERHS commander. "It is located in the Helmand province of southern Afghanistan, which has received a lot of national and British press. Prior to the completion of this assault strip, materials and supplies had to be either convoyed over 80 miles of treacherous and unfriendly desert terrain, or air dropped to this forward operating base."

To get the 645,000-square-foot surface area to initial grade, or level, 16 vertical inches of sub-base material was reshaped to form the runway and its shoulders. 

Blistering heat and heavy winds made water a scarce commodity and created the most difficult obstacle toward achieving proper soil compaction. To solve the problem, Airmen created catch basins to collect rainwater and obtained more than 150,000 gallons before the remaining precipitation evaporated. They got nearly the same amount by using the camp's chlorine-treated gray water. 

After weeks of training at Kandahar Airfield, a 12-person well drilling team, led by Master Sgt. Albert Robin, deployed from the 819th RHS, mobilized on site to drill three wells with the capacity for camp-life support and construction needs. 

"It takes a lot of water to make water, so we know what the guys on the airfield are going through," said Sergeant Robin. "By the time drilling was completed, their efforts had produced nearly three million gallons of non-potable water." 

At more than 700 feet deep, the water supply produces roughly 40 gallons per minute and stopped shortages during air strip construction. 

Once the team prepared the subgrade, the design called for placing nine inches of aggregate base course to bring the assault strip to final grade. Unfortunately technological, economic and security conditions in the surrounding villages made local contractors incapable of producing the quantity or quality of aggregate required. 

This presented an enormous challenge in the face of an extremely tight, mission-related deadline. As a result, the 809th ERHS joined forces with the 371st Marine Wing Support Squadron out of Yuma, Ariz., to get the job done. 

A team of 12 United States Marines came together on FOB Dwyer to design and produce an aluminum AM-2 matted surface that could support cargo aircraft weighing in excess of 84 tons. 

It was a herculean effort requiring nearly 40,000 individual pieces of aluminum matting to cover the entire operating surface. RED HORSE, Seabees, Marines and local contractors each loaned equipment and labor to the project to mitigate a multitude of logistical and equipment shortfalls. 

"It was truly a team effort... this airstrip simply wouldn't have happened if every unit didn't pitch in," said Marine Capt. Alexander Lugo-Velazquez, 371st MWSS detachment officer in charge. 

By project completion, members of the Air Force and Marine Corp had moved and placed nearly 15,000 cubic yards of local soil. 

The assault strip at Dwyer is just the first of several that members of the 809th ERHS will construct to help sustain the influx of troops into Afghanistan over the next several months.

Web version: http://www.malmstrom.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123166276

Last update: Saturday, 05 September 2009

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