To the unassuming eye, all that can be seen is dust and equipment energetically jetting around from one spot to the next.
In the mist of the controlled chaos, jagged pieces of rock that were blown off the side of a nearby mountain are processed and ground into cement to create what will be a dirt-landing strip located in the unknown location.
The finished product will mirror the work of a commercial construction team but this is no commercial crew. This however, is one of the Air Force’s four active-duty Red Horse units that each grasp the diverse capabilities and expertise to singlehandedly build a large-scale project such as this. A task that could easily fall on the 820th Red Horse Squadron.
“We are this agile, flexible unit that is able to go anywhere in the world and build or repair large construction projects,” said Capt. Ryan Hill, 820th RHS director of operations.
Red Horse stands for Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer and this unit operates autonomously from any other unit with more than 400 personnel and 20 different Air Force Specialty Codes at their discretion.
“We can go and build structures and it can be in a permissive or semi-permissive environment and we are completely self-sustaining,” said Hill. “We bring the equipment, personnel and training to be able to go and build our own installation. Some things that differentiate us from other units is that we are our own mini mission support group. We have cops, services, medical, logistics, finance and more. We can do anything to get the mission done.”
Although the unit possesses similar expertise seen in most base civil engineer squadrons, two key factors separate them from the rest-heavy construction and self-sustaining capabilities.
Hill stated an additional difference between civil engineering and Red Horse is that civil engineering ensures a base is operational to support the mission 24 hours, 7 days a week while Red Horse is constructing the large components of that base.
To ensure the mission can get done anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice, Red Horse must hone their skills with projects that can be completed locally.
“While we are home at Nellis, we are still building, but it’s building to train,” said Hill. “Obviously being at Nellis, there is a lot of great real-estate and a fantastic mission. With the great partnerships that we have here, were able to execute a lot of projects to give us the training we need to do our mission downrange.”
Red Horse utilizes troop training projects to assist base construction efforts while honing wartime responsibilities and proficiencies.
“The test case scenario is not when your team finds themselves in Syria trying to build a dirt landing strip,” said Hill. “The test case should be here and we do that through troop training projects.”
Red Horse possesses cradle-to-grave design-build capability, to include site surveying, design, planning, procurement, and construction which has benefits.
“It really bleeds into ownership,” said Senior Master Sgt. Joseph Towne, 820th RHS chief of operations. “The Airmen are owning the whole process. You take the rock you just blasted, crush it and process it all the way through to the final product and they did that all on their own.”
Seeing a project from start to finish has more benefits than just having the satisfaction of putting blood, sweat and tears through the duration of a project.
“The key factor of all that is that it drives the cost down,” said Towne. “If we can provide our own materials, we’re now the go-to unit.”
According to Towne, adaptability is one of the foundational tenants of the 820th RHS, so with the immediate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the unit shifted operations to continue key construction projects and training to further Nellis’ mission.
“I am incredibly impressed by our driven Airmen,” said Hill. “They’re told to stay home and wait during this pandemic. They want to get after jobs, tasks and deploy. It’s not just that they want to work, but they believe in the horse and believe in what we do.”
Their red hat is not only used to block the sun, but to symbolize what it takes to be a part of the Red Horse family.
Towne said that Red Horse Airmen must know the red hat is special and they earn the right to wear the hat.
Red Horse’s ability to provide the capabilities and know-how makes them the premier military construction force of choice. They provide installations the needed infrastructure with their exclusive experience while fine tuning their craft to complete any mission around the world.