GREAT FALLS, Mont. --
The commander of the 219th RED HORSE Squadron of the Montana Air National Guard said his squadron has changed some of its responsibilities and capabilities with recent RED HORSE organizational restructuring.
RED HORSE stands for Rapid Engineer Deployable, Heavy Operational Repair Squadron, Engineers. The heavy construction specialists support contingencies and special operations throughout the world, often in austere environments.
"We’re a classic association with the active duty 819th RED HORSE Squadron, we share space, we share training, we share equipment as a total force initiative,” 219th RHS Commander Col. Rusty Vaira said. “We’ve been paired now as guard team, the 219th, the 210th RED HORSE Squadron out of New Mexico, and the 254th out of Guam make up an equivalent RED HORSE squadron.”
Vaira said the 219th serves as the lead unit for the three guard RED HORSE squadrons. This additional command responsibility has brought a full colonel position to the Montana squadron.
The reorganization began in 2011 and culminated with a change of direction of the squadron’s building specialties.
“We’re no longer focused on vertical construction being our case span arch metal facilities, our pre-engineered buildings, wood construction-we’re more horizontal construction,” Vaira said. “We’ve really shifted our focus more towards asphalt, concrete, roads, runways, anything that has to do with that.”
The chief enlisted manager for the 219th RHS said the limited time provided by regularly scheduled drills offer challenges in meeting training goals, but he looks for opportunities to continue to provide quality training for the unit’s members.
“It’s very rewarding to see the training that the Airmen go through to succeed, not only in the guard but in the civilian sector as well,” Fink said. “We have Airmen who have engineering degrees, so it’s pretty fulfilling.”
The three guard squadrons deployed as a full team to Southwest Asia in October 2015. Additional personnel augmented the deployment from active duty, guard and reserve units.
Members of the squadron are also available to provide their heavy construction capabilities during times of national emergencies or natural disasters. Vaira said the unit can deploy to a location with tents and generators and can utilize the talents of its electricians, power production or construction or water purification specialists to respond to any scenario the state may face.
“Our unit comes with great capabilities for the state of Montana, because it’s such a well-rounded organization,” Vaira said. “We are considered a Tier 1 initial response capability for the state of Montana for any type of flood, snow or any natural disaster right now.”
Varia said 219th RHS members fought and provided security and other support functions during Montana forest fires. They’ve recently provided state flood relief assistance to Colorado to help rebuild roads in 2013. A cooperative agreement between the governors of each state allowed the 219th RHS to help.
“Colorado had called us up to help rebuild the roads at Estes Park,” Fink said. “That was an incredible feat, it showed what we can truly do.”
Vaira appreciates the wealth of civilian education and experience his Airmen bring to their military jobs. Many travel vast distances to attend their guard drills, coming to drill from states as far as Washington, Idaho, Utah or North Dakota. He also credits the families and employers of guardsmen for helping the Airmen of the 219th RHS successfully complete its missions.
“They like the mission, it’s a very set mission for heavy construction in austere conditions in both federal and state activations,” Vaira said. “It’s a great organization and great people, I’m very blessed to have them as being a leader.”
The Airmen of the 219th RHS maintain 26 different Air Force Specialty Codes. That wide range of capabilities sets them apart from any other civil engineering units, said the unit’s chief of logistics.
“We are self-sufficient, we have the logistics portion,” said Chief Master Sgt. Brian Furr. “We have vehicle maintenance, food service, supply for ordering parts. We’re a small section of RED HORSE, but those assets are what makes us unique and self supporting.”
Vaira counts returning to Montana to serve as a member of the 819th RED HORSE Squadron and becoming commander of the 219th RHS as some of his career highlights. He was promoted to colonel May 6, becoming the first full colonel to serve as head of his squadron.
“I would say the highlights have been on deployments where you really see the results of your training and the leadership that you can provide,” said Vaira. “I think that becoming promoted as a colonel is definitely a pinnacle in my career, but every one of the highlights before that got me to this point.”