Military News

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Montana engineer squadron levels JBER flightline

by Staff Sgt. William Banton
JBER Public Affairs

7/17/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Gray clouds roll down the mountains, across the valley and over Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson as excavators demolish a proverbial mountain.
No one blinks as two F-22 Raptors take off over the construction site, causing a surge of sound on the already-noisy mound overlooking the flight line. 
The inconsistent Alaska weather, and the sounds of freedom, courtesy of America's premier fighter aircraft, have become par for the course for the Airmen working six-day weeks.

They are on a temporary duty assignment from Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, as part of the 819th Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer (RED HORSE) Squadron.

"We are a self-contained unit and we can go anywhere in the world and operate," said Air Force Master Sgt. Isaac Moses, 819th RED HORSE project manager.

According to the Headquarters Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency, RED HORSE units are self-sufficient, 404-person mobile heavy construction squadrons capable of rapid response and independent operations in remote, high-threat environments worldwide.

They provide heavy repair capability and construction support when requirements exceed normal base civil engineer capabilities and where Army engineer support is not readily available.

"We use training projects, so if we [deploy] and are tasked with building a runway or setting up a base we already know how to run each piece of equipment and can just roll in and start working," Moses said.

While assigned to a training project, like at JBER, RED HORSE units work as if they were operating out of a deployed environment, he said.

In late May, RED HORSE began removing a hill at the end of one of the runways, hoping to make it easier for pilots to take off and land.

The JBER project originated after the dangers of the foliage around JBER's flight line were reassessed.

As an aircraft was approaching the runway on a north-to-south trajectory, pilots were required to fly over trees on a hill and then drop down onto the airfield.
This approach was complicated by the fact that the short length of the runway would require an aircraft to stop quickly.

"We came up here under a contract and chopped off about 700,000 cubic yards of material (trees), which basically brought the point of the hill down and opened it up so pilots could then see the airfield," said Robert McElroy, 673d Civil Engineer Squadron chief of construction management.

During this time, the 673d CES planned for the removal of the hill, an additional 2.5 million cubic yards of dirt, to ensure the glide slope for the runway was within Air Force regulations.

A single cubic yard of material is the equivalent of three feet in height, by three feet in length, by three feet in depth, and can weigh as much as 3,000 pounds.
The final project required the removal of more than seven billion pounds of dirt.

For comparison, the heaviest object ever directly weighed by Guinness World Records was the Kennedy Space Center Revolving Service Structure of launch pad 39B, weighing approximately 5.3 million pounds.

Projects like these are prioritized based on installation needs and then submitted Air Force-wide for additional support, which is where RED HORSE comes in, McElroy said.

Due to lower labor costs, using military assets can make allocated funds go further.

"The equipment is rented from companies here in Anchorage," Moses said. "Typically, we don't get to work with this equipment at the home station. We would normally operate equipment this size in a deployed environment, so this is a huge plus for us as an added training value."

The professionalism and capabilities provided by the 819th RED HORSE made for easy planning and communication with their counterparts at the 673d CES, McElroy said.

"When the RED HORSE folks stepped in, it was pretty easy to just stand there and say, "Here's our plan, here's what we need to get done, here's what we need to have when we are done moving everything," he said.  "Without even batting an eye, they said 'we can do that.'"

RED HORSE units usually operate by first assigning a project engineer, usually a company grade officer, as well as a project manager, usually a senior noncommissioned officer.

They work with local subject matter experts to coordinate the needed resources prior to arriving on location.

"[The project] is scheduled for three years, but at the rate they are moving, I don't think it will take three years," McElroy said.

The 819th RED HORSE is scheduled to finish up the first phase of construction in early September and to return next spring to continue construction.

"This year we did a three-month and maybe next year we are looking at coming up for four," Moses said. "Now we know exactly what we got into and what we need. Like Mr. McElroy said, maybe next year we could be close to finishing."

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