RED HORSE restructures to elevate deployment capabilities

  • Published
  • By Heather Heiney
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs

When the 819th RED HORSE Squadron was presented with the challenge of accelerating change to increase deployment capabilities across their enterprise, they responded with an innovation that will completely change the way RED HORSE trains at home and how they deploy overseas.

“One of the big objectives is to make sure we are ready to confront the challenges of the future,” said Lt. Col. Javier Velazquez, 819th RHS commander. “The only way we can possibly do that is by building our teams in garrison the same way that they are going to be deployed and working together.”

RED HORSE stands for Rapid Engineer Deployable, Heavy Operational Repair Squadron, Engineer. They are self-sufficient and mobile squadrons capable of rapid response and independent operations in remote environments worldwide. In addition to civil engineers, the squadron includes Airmen from more than 30 career fields.

Over the last several decades, RED HORSE squadrons organized themselves by those career fields. They spent time primarily with people who do the same job while they were in garrison and only built deployment teams when tasked to mobilize. This meant that when a RED HORSE team deployed, they would have to build camaraderie and learn to trust one another in the deployed environment.

"Nowadays we don’t have that luxury,” Velazquez said. “We need to be sure that we can hit the ground running on day one and that’s exactly what we’re trying to achieve with our new structure.”

Now, the squadrons will be restructured into teams based on their ability to fulfill a specific purpose. These teams include horizontal construction, demolition and quarry, vertical construction, expeditionary engineering, site assessment and support functions.

This means if a combatant commander needs, for example, an airfield built at their location, RED HORSE would send them a horizontal construction team that includes all the right people, tools and assets necessary to complete that task.

“By putting these teams together we have the ability to not only know each other…but be organized in a way that is capabilities-based,” said Chief Master Sgt. Nathan Laidlaw, 819th RHS senior enlisted leader. “When the combatant commander comes down and says, ‘we need a water well drilled,’ we press the button and they’re there. They are organized, trained, equipped and ready to go.”

The squadron’s leadership emphasized that the idea is to spend as much time at home as possible working together, solving problems and maintaining their readiness.

“This new construct really focuses us on that capability as well as readiness,” said Maj. Keegan Vaira, 819th RHS director of operations. “In the previous way we were doing business, that wasn’t at the forefront of everyone’s mind and under our new structure, a huge piece of what these teams are doing every day is making sure they are ready to execute that mission.”

“Everyone can get ready at once,” said Senior Master Sgt. Serena Goethe, 819th RHS first sergeant. “They all got their shots at the same time, they all did their firing at the same time, they did their [computer-based trainings] at the same time so they knew they were all good to go at once.”

After the initial planning process, the 819th RHS completed the transformation in about five months from August to December 2021.  

“At the beginning of any change it’s difficult and it’s a lot of unknowns,” Laidlaw said. “In that initial storming change of this transformation I would say it was a little uneasy to be honest and it should have been because we’re changing the way we’ve done business.

“Once [the Airmen] started buying in and seeing the process and understanding where we were going and seeing the benefits it provided them, the majority have come on board and have been very positive about it.”

Goethe added that while Airmen will spend most of their time working with the teams in their new flights, they will have the opportunity to work with others within their specific career fields for training and mentorship.

“I’m glad to say that the 819th is taking the lead for the entire enterprise with the support of the 800th RED HORSE Group,” Velazquez said.

The 819th RHS is the first RED HORSE squadron to complete the restructuring.

“The cumulative plan came almost exclusively from the 819th” Laidlaw said. “This unit went through a lot to come up with this concept and they deserve the credit for it.”