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
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
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
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
"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."