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July 25, 2014

Lessons learned: Deployment exercise gives new insight

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Master Sgt. Nicholas Alessi
820th RED HORSE Squadron

Master Sgt. Nicholas Alessi, New Horizons engineer 820th RED HORSE Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., lays block at the Edward P. Yorke school construction site April 9, in Belize City, Belize. The site is one of five sites throughout Belize receiving new facilities built by U.S. military and Belize Defence Force engineers. The construction is part of New Horizons Belize 2014, an exercise geared toward mutual training and cooperation amongst Belize Defence Force, Canadian military, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps members. The opening ceremonies for the event are scheduled 10 a.m. April 10 at the Edward P. Yorke school in Belize City, Belize.

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. – As a civil engineer and a RED HORSE ‘Horseman,’ I have seen my fair share of deployments, including five to the Middle East. Each one has been drastically different than the other, providing a broad range of experiences.

In late 2013, I was told I was deploying to Belize.

How do you deploy to Belize?

How is a deployment an exercise?

What could I possibly learn?

My tasking for 90 days in Belize for New Horizons ‘14, Task Force Mahogany sounded like a short cakewalk compared to my normal seven-month tasking, but answered these questions and then some.

So, how do you deploy to Belize?

RED HORSE from around the Air Force perform New Horizons deployments to Central America annually to practice deployment tasks, integrate with the other DOD and host nation forces, and to aid the local population. This year’s tasking was for the 820th RED HORSE to go to Belize City and Belmopan, Belize. For me this sounded simple, routine and nothing like an exercise or deployment, until the planning and learning process began.

From the get go, we went into deployment mode. We had our tasking and practiced every aspect of pushing personnel and equipment out the door. We processed our personnel, performed deployment health assessments, training, computer based training modules, and weapons qualifications. We organized C-17 Globemaster airlift to get personnel, equipment and weapons into country. I personally oversaw the packing and shipment of $3 million in equipment, tools and assets. We took everything with us, to include the kitchen sink, to go in a school house. This really was looking like a RED HORSE deployment.

As a project manager, I was tasked to build a two-room school house constructed of concrete masonry unit block. My team comprised of three fellow squadron members and 20 U.S. Marine Corps engineers. I have embedded with U.S. Army and Marine Corps forces before, but never led them. This first challenge was escalated with the information that the 20 Marines would be reservists performing their two-week annual training. Luckily this challenge was easy to overcome. The integration was seamless and as a new crew rolled in every two weeks; a short 15 minute brief had the 24 of us working as a solid team. As a team, we saw 120 personnel work on the job to include Airmen, Marines, Navy Corpsmen and Army engineers. The experience of working amongst our sister services prepared us for future downrange deployments. After 14 years, I certainly learned something new.

We may not have been in harm’s way working outside the wire in an Afghanistan countryside, but we went through the exact same procedures to get to that point. For me, integrating with all three services plus the Belize Defense Force was an amazing experience. The minor issues that came up were instrumental in helping me as a leader overcome potential problems in a controlled environment, instead of downrange. Some might smirk when I say I deployed to Belize, but the training I received and the questions answered were vital to the success of future joint deployments, no matter where they may take me.




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