November 6, 2008

203rd RED HORSE takes to the field

By Lt. Col. Debbie Magaldi
Virginia Air Guard Public Affairs

Airmen from the 203rd RED HORSE Squadron assume firing positions during their field training exercise in Virginia Beach Oct. 23-36. (Photo by Master Sgt. Carlos Claudio, 192nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — More than 160 Airmen from the 203rd RED HORSE Squadron experienced divergent weather and a range of training opportunities during the unit's annual field training exercise at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach, Oct. 23-26. For 100 of these RED HORSE men and women it was their first field experience: staying in tents, eating from a field kitchen and protecting their compound from mock attacks.

The weather went from dry, sunny and mild to chilly, wet, blustery and overcast. Activities ran the gamut from setting up camp and cleaning and inspecting gear to conducting hours of ancillary and specialized field training. These activities were periodically punctuated with staged attacks on the compound and on the convoy training runs.

The training plan included scenarios similar to what the unit dealt with during its last deployment to Southwest Asia, from which the unit returned from on Mother's Day in May 2007.

"We took this field training slow," said Chief Master Sgt. Chris Valdez, exercise coordinator, whose radio handle for the FTX was Mother Goose. "With so many new members who had either never been in the field, or hadn't previously deployed with the unit, we placed an emphasis on safety and training this year. We're starting with the basics - things like field hygiene, because just taking care of yourself in the field is incredibly important - for the individual and to the success of a mission.

Senior Airman Richard Engel operates an excavator to clear debris from a simulated bomb crater in preparation for repairing a damaged airfield. (Photo by Maj. Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

"The unit had a large number of members who were ready for retirement, but they stayed through the last deployment," she explained. "So Recruiting has brought in a lot of motivated, energetic, young, new Airmen. We are crawling and walking now, but we will get back up to speed."

Indeed some of the unit members were so new that they hadn't yet been to basic training. They wore reflective vests and participated where permitted and observed activities they couldn't participate in. "This kind of experience will help them gain a better understanding of what the unit does, and help them better handle warrior week during basic training," Valdez added.

The unit was divided into five groups that rotated through the ancillary training modules: defensive fighting positions; air base defense; communications; chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives warfare and decontamination; and convoy training.

Then mission-specific training got underway with surveying, making airfield damage assessments and repairs, and installing the mobile aircraft arresting system.

In the command and operations tents, planners tracked personnel, equipment and materials; managed event flow, communications and processes; and worked to hone the unit's battle skills including sense of urgency and reaction to the staged attacks. As one of the first types of units to move into a barren or "bare base" environment, it is critical to keep close track of all their resources.

An Airman from the 203rd RED HORSE Squadron digs a fighting position with her entrenching tool during the three-day field training exercise. (Photo by Master Sgt. Carlos Claudio, 192nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs)


Most of the instructors for the FTX participated in the unit's last deployment to Southwest Asia and worked diligently to bring real scenario discussions, examples and responses to their training. "You don't forget those kinds of [deployment] lessons," said Capt. Sarah Handegard, 203rd physician assistant. "And when you enter this type of training environment, those experiences and lessons come back. This is a valuable way to share that experience and knowledge with new unit members. Doing something like this makes the training more relevant and it helps them understand what to expect."

The 203rd RED HORSE Squadron is a self-contained, equipped and trained, rapid-response engineering force capable of doing expedited damage-requirements assessments, heavy-damage repairs, bare-base development, and heavy construction operations such as constructing aircraft parking ramps and munitions pads. RED HORSE units possess special capabilities including well drilling, explosives demolition, quarry operations, materials testing, and concrete and asphalt paving. In addition, the unit has its own internal support personnel, including services, vehicle maintenance, security, supply, logistics and information management.

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