RED HORSE squadrons celebrate 20th anniversary

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peterson
  • 219th RED HORSE Squadron
Current RED HORSE members, their family members and retirees of two combined squadrons based at Malmstrom Air Force Base celebrated the 20th anniversary of the heavy construction units’ activation in the Airfields Building July 20, 2017.

The Air Force active duty 819th RED HORSE Squadron and the Montana Air National Guard 219th RED HORSE Squadron became active-associate units 20 years ago during an activation ceremony held at Malmstrom Aug. 8, 1997.

The acronym RED HORSE spells out the specialized construction work they perform: Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer. The squadrons pride themselves on being highly mobile, rapidly deployable, self-sustaining and capable of supporting air power worldwide, often in remote and austere environments.

The unique active-associate unit concept allows the two squadrons to share personnel and resources for training and deployment purposes.

The anniversary ceremony’s guest speaker was the first commander of the 219th RHS, retired Col. Gary Shick.

Shick said standing up a new RED HORSE squadron by reactivating the 819th RHS and activating the 219th RHS helped offset the loss of an air refueling wing and the closure of the runway at Malmstrom.

He said the original Air Force proposal was to combine active duty forces with an Air Force Reserve component, but demographics in the Malmstrom area made it difficult to fill the part-time reserve force ranks. The Air National Guard stepped up to meet the challenge and aligned a unit with the 819th RHS.

“The mix of regular Air Force and Air National Guard RED HORSE personnel, which would share organization, training and equipment, incidentally, led to the first-ever Air Force-Air National Guard associate unit,” said Shick. “The TAG (the Montana Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. John E. Prendergast) approved the re-role of the 120th Civil Engineer Squadron at the Montana Air National Guard from a PRIME BEEF (Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force) lead team to a RED HORSE role in a war-time mission of rounding out the 819th RED HORSE Squadron.”

Shick said at the time of the standup there were few members filling the roster of the combined squadrons.

“We were about one half of our complimented strength of personnel by August of 1997,” Shick said. “I would guess equipment wise, I would say that we might have been one third of the way at most, on the way to having the tools, equipment, vehicles and facilities-other than just a roof over our head-ready for IOC (initial operational capability).”

During the ceremony, Shick asked the retired members who had earned the right to wear the coveted white hat of RED HORSE retirees to stand and be recognized. They were met with a round of applause from those in attendance.

“You all were the ones who set the path for us in the 819th to be one of the best RED HORSE squadrons in the Air Force,” said 819th RHS Commander Col. Jose Rivera-Hernandez. “It wasn’t easy at the beginning, but that path of excellence that you set from the beginning, that’s been going on for 20 plus years now.”

The present commander of the MTANG’s 219th RHS was first assigned to Malmstrom as an active duty captain serving in the 819th RHS.

The Montana native described the tight working relationship between the members of the active duty and Air National Guard squadrons.

“It’s about the people, it’s about being a blended unit, it’s about the deployments we’ve done together, the inspections we’ve done together,” said 219th RHS Commander Col. Rusty Vaira. “We’re always doing the same mission, and that is to execute rapid engineering, deployable, heavy, operational combat support, and we’ve been doing it for years. It’s outstanding to see so many folks here that are part of that legacy to make this what we are today.”

After the short, formal portion of the anniversary celebration ended, RED HORSE members, their families and retirees were treated to a barbeque where everyone had a chance to share stories and catch up on old times.

219th RHS Operations Superintendent Senior Master Sgt. Bill Gamradt has been associated with the 219th RHS since 1997, when he transferred from the 120th Civil Engineer Squadron into the new RED HORSE unit.

“I wanted to be part of an all-around world-wide deployable unit,” Gamradt said. “It’s really opened my perspective on what we can do and how to serve the nation and state and provide construction-related assets to be able to be part of the whole picture.”

Retired Senior Master Sgt. Mark Lund served sixteen years as a member of the 219th RHS. When he retired he was serving as the squadron’s electrical superintendent.

He appreciated the opportunity to return to his unit during the anniversary celebration to visit with fellow retirees and his former active duty and Guard coworkers.

“Oh, man-the camaraderie, the heritage, there’s no downside,” Lund said. “It’s a very cool event to be at.”