219th RED HORSE Squadron earns national honor
By Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peterson, 120th FW
/ Published June 12, 2013
GREAT FALLS, MONT. -- The Director of the Air National Guard announced in a letter that the 219th RED HORSE Squadron of the Montana Air National Guard was selected to receive a National Guard Association of the United States award for 2013.
In the letter, Lt. Gen. Stanley E. Clark III congratulated the MTANG unit members for earning the NGAUS Distinguished Mission Support Plaque in the annual national competition. This is the fourth consecutive year that the 219 RHS has won this prestigious award.
"I'm very proud of the organization," said Lt. Col. Rusty Vaira, 219th RHS commander. "To win this award four times for us is outstanding. We have a great mission and enjoy great support from the community and state and I credit those members being committed to the unit for making these things happen."
The 219th RHS is a highly mobile civil-engineering response force that supports United States Air Force military contingencies and special operations for both state and federal operations throughout the world.
The nomination for the award listed numerous unit members deployed to assist with training personnel or construction projects.
During the year, 10 219th RHS Guardsmen supported a National Guard Bureau request and accepted a humanitarian civic assistance mission to Slunj, Croatia. While in-country, the unit members repaired walls for a Croatian Army medical training facility, repaired a local civilian school and trained Croatian military personnel and civilians on modern construction techniques.
The unit also supported a request from the U.S. Navy to construct training facilities at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. During the deployment, 34 Guardsmen completed a high-priority obstacle course used by over 1,000 special forces personnel annually.
Closer to home, 30 Guardsmen completed a 50-foot by 150-foot K-Span structure intended to protect emergency response vehicles at Fort Harrison, Mont. in less than 30 days.
It was also noted that 219th RHS members supported deployments to Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan during the award period.
Vaira said the diversity of deployments that the 219th RHS members participated in is a testament to the wide range of careers represented in the unit and the high level of experience held by the personnel.
"Our mission is to deploy in support of contingencies to the world-wide theater and also to support the state, so our mission is geared toward a lot of different construction and emergency response type activities," said Vaira. "We are a self-contained unit so we can take the unit and go to a location, be self-supportive and we can do our job in those environments."
He's also impressed at the level of dedication offered to the unit by its personnel. Many of the members travel great distances to attend their unit training assemblies held at Malmstrom Air Force Base each month.
"They travel almost a combined 24,000 miles round trip to come here to a drill on any given weekend," Vaira said. "They like the unit, they like the mission, they like the camaraderie, so I would think that really contributes to how we are able to be successful."
Community service is also an important component of the Air National Guard mission, and the 219th RHS continually serves the community well.
The unit performed a site survey for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation. During the survey, unit members evaluated a dam and a flood-prevention plan that impacts tribal land.
The 219th RHS also supported the Montana National Guard Youth Challenge program, assisted the Montana National Guard Camp Runamucka and developed a mobile aircraft arresting system plan for a Kalispell, Mont. air show.
More recently, the 219th RHS participated in a community service project for the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, located in Great Falls.
The organization was moving to a new location and needed assistance with facility renovations. Unit members constructed a 50-foot wall with a door in the interior of a large warehouse. Vaira saw an opportunity in the project to serve the community and provide valuable leadership training for his personnel.
"It provided a small unit leadership opportunity," he said. "We put a noncommissioned officer in charge of those types of projects so they get to lead the team. They're responsible to make sure that they do all of the safety briefings, have the right materials and have the right tools. They interact with not just the military but also our community in a positive way."