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Building multi-capable teams; 800 RHG readies, reorganizes for future competition

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Andrew Satran and Major Keegan Vaira
  • 15th Air Force Public Affairs Office and 819th RED HORSE Squadron

As the Air Force looks toward future global conflict, the need for agile combat employment is critical, and Airmen at the 800th RED HORSE Group are ready to meet this need.

However, times are changing to meet the demand of great power competition and RED HORSE is adapting the way it organizes and trains to achieve its mission in any environment. That change focuses on multi-capable teams.

According to Col. Matthew Welling, 800 RHG commander at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, operationalizing the team construct through an organizational structure that enables the deliberate development of high-performing, multi-capable teams is a significant organizational change for RED HORSE.

“You lose the opportunity to build readiness at the team level when Airmen disband after a training project or training event,” said Welling. “If we want to capitalize on deliberately developing teams, we must invest before they deploy.”

Welling said prior to deploying, Airmen will build readiness cohesively by working together and being grouped by Unit Type Code to build the skills and capability needed to support Combatant Commanders. They will still maintain their Air Force Specialty Code, but will know who their team is before deploying, allowing them to train side-by-side.

Over the last quarter-century, RED HORSE squadrons were organized functionally, coming together to form multi-capable teams directly before deploying or sometimes meeting for the first time in the deployed theater.

RED HORSE (Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers) is a specialized and self-sufficient unit comprised of 32 different Air Force Specialty Codes tasked to rapidly respond anywhere in the world to construct Combatant Commanders power-projection infrastructure requirements. A few of these requirements include constructing airfields from scratch, erecting pre-engineered buildings, and developing bare bases.

The new multi-capable teams construct will allow teams to be together for two years enabling highly trained, ready, and performing teams to employ their knowledge and skills prior to deploying. The idea is not doing the exact skill from another Airmen’s job skill set, but knowing the other team member’s role to assist when needed.

“We have a team of experts in their craft that will get to know enough of each other’s job to amplify the product and efficiency once they work together as a team,” said Chief Master Sgt. Nathan Laidlaw, 819th RED HORSE Squadron senior enlisted leader, Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana. “We went through a considerable amount of change over the last six months and we are experiencing the benefits of the transition through the success of deployed teams in South America, CONUS TDY’s, local projects, and contingency skills preparedness.”

Tech. Sgt. Paul Loughery, 819 RHS Horizontal Team lead, has seen first-hand the challenge the new multi-capable team construct will solve.

“I definitely deployed and showed up seeing struggles. For example, we were doing a road project where we didn’t have grader operator doing the final surface on a road,” said Loughery. “With the new construct, we know we have the capability because we know the people who are going with us. It takes hundreds of hours running this piece of equipment to be proficient and the benefit now is that we have those members on the team training with us ahead of time learning how to accomplish our goals.”

When not deployed, RED HORSE units train on construction, self-sufficiency, and combat skills.  Construction training is achieved through in-house training and Troop Training Projects, a program which allows a RED HORSE unit to choose projects from the Air Force Civil Engineer Center master project list that meet the training criteria or by coordinating directly with a unit or base that needs a construction job.

“I think it will be beneficial overall, because you get exposure to many different AFSCs ahead of going downrange and also it helps us better train,” said Capt. Kaylee Kostka, 823 RHS project engineer, Hurlburt Field, Florida. “If you have UTC Site Assessment team, they can exercise what it’s going to look like before getting to the site, exercise contingency pavement evaluation capabilities and strengthen what we need to get after within the UTC.”

Now that teams are organized, trained, and equipped based on a specific capability or Unit Type Code, for example well drilling, demo quarry, paving, earth moving, concrete, and much more, the team’s will be better equipped to create airfields or other infrastructure projects for combatant commanders according to U.S. Army Master Sgt. Kandom Moore, 819 RHS superintendent special capabilities.

“It’s been a great experience with a lot of differences, working with joint partners. You get to see what it’s like working as a joint force and understand the capabilities of both branches to better brief the commander of what’s capable within the joint force,” said Moore.

Moore also stated his team has the ability to look holistically at innovative techniques to enhance their mission.

“We have looked into different training with quarry training, to find materials and quarry material out. To take big rocks and turn them into little rocks with rock crushers and sifters is a big process,” said Moore. “To harvest the material to make gravel for a site instead of outsourcing, we have looked into training with different branches to come up with training to talk capabilities and shortfalls for our teams.”

Another innovation within the new construct has been with the 819 RHS Services section chief, Tech. Sgt. Luke Hickox. He said his team is integrating with other RED HORSE Airmen and learning every facet of the Services career field.

“It’s a blank slate. We have a lot of support from our Squadron and Group leadership to pave the way for future generations,” said Hickox. “We have the ability to focus on what we need to refine our mission and find creative processes to take care of existing problems.”

One of the training projects Hickox focused on was getting his Services team into a five day Austere Butchering Course that educated the Airmen on making “creative sustenance” if the food supply was ever in jeopardy. His team learned to humanely dress and prepare animals that could be found or foraged locally in an austere environment to sustain the force.

“This ability adds tools to the arsenal,” said Hickox. “For example, if one of our missions is food, you plan for worst-case scenario in any contingency.”

Along with learning each other’s role and innovating within the UTC, another critical task is learning how to survive in a contested environment. The new multi-capable team construct will allow Airmen to train together when it comes to combat. 

For Staff Sgt. Taylor Strickland, 823 RHS ground combat skills instructor, he says “We can’t afford to rely on external security.  We teach our Airmen how to use these skills in any environment. It’s a mindset to understand that they may have to use these skills in a hostile environment.”

Strickland said his Ground Combat Skills instructor team is growing the program and has incorporated more hands-on training. His team is currently working to visit other 800 RHG squadrons soon to provide a variety of skills, including individual small arms training.

With the multi-capable team construct, RED HORSE Airmen have, in true fashion as RED HORSE, started the process to plan, build, integrate, educate, and train together to form what they know will help them and their missions in the future, a high performing team.

“We can go anywhere in the world, build a runway from nothing, to project air superiority,” said Master Sgt. Sergio Jackson, 823 RHS Logistics Flight superintendent. “It’s the legacy we leave as RED HORSE.”