Sept. 24, 2009

Field training prepares Air Guard engineering unit for inspection, future deployments

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

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Heavy rains and driving winds greeted the Airmen of the 203d RED HORSE Squadron as they converged upon Camp Pendleton in Virginia Beach for the unit's annual Field Training Exercise, Sept. 10-13.

  RED HORSE FTX

Virginia Guard Airmen use a front-end loader to move sand bags for a bunker project during the 203d RED HORSE field training exercise Sept. 11 at the State Military Reservation. (Photo by Maj. Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

More than 150 Airmen belonging to the Virginia Air National Guard's rapid-response engineering unit took to the field for the exercise. They set up and protected their encampment, conducted warfare training and honed many of the skills included in their wartime taskings requirements.

"The weather slowed us down in the beginning," said 203d RHS commander, Lt.Col. Pete Garner, "but we've been gaining ground ever since. We patterned this training to help prepare us for future deployments, as well as for our next Operational Readiness Inspection scheduled for April 2010."

Over the last seven years, the unit has successfully completed two deployments to multiple locations in Southwest Asia. The unit returned from its last deployment in May 2007.

This was an important training exercise, according to Garner. For nearly 100 unit members, last year's FTX was their very first time in the field or their first training exercise with the unit. With so many new unit members, last year's exercise was dubbed a "crawl/walk" exercise and emphasized basics, like general safety practices, setting up and protecting a compound and field hygiene in addition to more specialized-skills and war-taskings training like convoy operations and airfield damage assessments and repair.

"This year's exercise, conducted at a 'walk/run' level, was a new experience for about a quarter of the unit," Garner continued. "We ramped up the intensity and developed scenarios where our Airmen responded to mission taskings and ability to survive and operate (ATSO) demands simultaneously. Unit personnel worked on a number of design and construction projects and we accomplished a lot of training in an ATSO environment.

  RED HORSE FTX

Lt. Col. Steve Phillips (left) and Senior Master Sgt Darryl Riddle (right) provide an operations briefing to Lt. Col. Pete Garner,  commander of the 203d RED HORSE, during  the unit's field training exercise Sept. 11 at the State Military Reservation. (Photo by Maj. Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

"Everyone really stepped up to the plate for this exercise. Morale and attitude have been outstanding," Garner added. "Our noncommissioned officers have taken on the leadership role of mentoring our younger Airmen. And our newer unit members are working hard and quickly coming
up to speed. The unit is fortunate to have many eager, sharp Airmen who are willing to take on the tasks needed to get the job done."

The weather went from very rainy and windy to dry, sunny and mild over the course of the exercise. 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 chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, high-yield explosives or equipment (CBRNE) attacks on the compound and on the convoy training runs.

Then mission-specific training got underway with surveying, making airfield damage assessments and repairs night and day, and installing the mobile aircraft arresting system, conducting transformer repairs, constructing a K-Span building, and purifying water for drinking with a reverse osmosis water purification unit.

A simulated medical air evacuation in an Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter turned into a 30 minute incentive flight for 18 lucky Airmen.

From his security post at the camp's entry control point, Senior Airman Michael Wilson, Airfields, commented, "This was great training. It provided good experience for newer Airmen who hadn't been through a training exercise before. This kind of training gives you a little taste of what to expect during an operational readiness exercise and the ORI as well as an actual deployment."

  RED HORSE FTX

Virginia Guard Airmen work on the end wall of a K-span structure during the 203d RED HORSE field training exercise Sept. 11 at the State Military Reservation. (Photo by Maj. Cotton Puryear, Virginia  Guard Public Affairs)

While firing up an excavator so he could fill in a mock bomb crater on the airfield training pad, Staff Sgt. Charles Dodge, Airfields, said, "We have a significant number of new members, so this type of training is very good. We had to cut short some convoy training on the first day because of the bad weather; it was practically monsoon conditions. But after that things went quite smooth and days three and four went really well."

Senior Airman Lisa Spagnoli, Structures, felt the exercise was well organized and that the tempo was good. "We saw more action this year," she said.

After reflecting a moment, Senior Airman Clayton Stagg, Vehicle Maintenance, said, "It was a pleasure to do, especially to be out here over Sept. 11. That puts all of this into perspective."

Airman First Class Jerome Padmore, Electrical, said, "This was a great learning experience. Very little runs out here without electricity. These training exercises get better as we go along and they prepare us for the real deal."

Technical Sergeant Jessica Wilson, Air Transport, has been with the unit a couple years after serving several years on active duty. "Set up went better this year," she noted. "We got the tents up without any problems. We are prepared to deploy with this equipment now."

The 203d 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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