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Florida Guard Red Horse Teams Support Community, Units

By Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
American Forces Press Service

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss., Sept. 12, 2005 – Florida Air National Guard Senior Master Sgt. Doug Gilbert answered the incoming phone call in front of a large dry-erase board where the 202nd Red Horse Squadron is tracking a long list of construction projects.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air National Guard Senior Master Sgt. Doug Gilbert talks to Bay St. Louis, Miss., city officials at the 202nd Red Horse's operations center at Camp Haywood, Miss., on the grounds of Bay Middle School Sept. 9. The unit is helping to rebuild the local community devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Photos by Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

He had just finished meeting with the mayor of the local town and a school superintendent.

After listening for several seconds, he spoke to the caller. "I got 15 electricians I can send," Gilbert said. Seconds later, the self-proclaimed "camp mayor" and unit noncommissioned officer in charge ended the call and was putting another plan in motion.

The 202nd, a Florida Air National Guard unit, was in this region just hours after the storm ripped the coastline Aug. 29. Gilbert was one of the first to enter the area. He is part of Task Force Engineers, and one of 73 from his unit on the ground here.

"When we met with emergency operations center folks from Hancock County, they told us they were going to give us Hancock County," Gilbert said. Since then, the tactical civil engineering unit has not only established a base camp for infantrymen of the 3rd Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, another Florida Guard unit bringing relief to the area, but it has also started numerous civil repair projects in surrounding communities.

Gilbert said the 202nd is helping bring several sewer lift stations online, removing debris, repairing roofs, helping restore power, cleaning and repairing schools and doing a lot of work on electrical infrastructures.

"Most of the schools had four to eight feet of water in them," Gilbert said. "I've seen every hurricane in the last 10 years, but I've never seen anything like this," he said. According to the Air Force, Red Horse squadrons provide a highly mobile civil engineering response force to support contingency and special operations worldwide. They are self sufficient and capable of rapid response and independent operations in remote, high-threat environments worldwide. These squadrons provide heavy-repair capability and construction support when requirements exceed normal base civil engineer capabilities and where Army engineer support is not readily available. They possess weapons, vehicles, equipment and vehicle maintenance, food service, supply and medical equipment. Red Horse is actually an acronym for "Rapid Engineer Deployable - Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer." The units, born out of the Air Force's demand for dedicated engineering teams in Vietnam, are reputed for entering remote areas and building bases in the unlikeliest of places - deserts, jungles - from the ground up. This time the 202nd erected its base camp at Bay Middle School. The camp, officially dubbed Camp Haywood, was named in memory of William Haywood Brown, a unit member who passed away from liver cancer Sept. 9. Some of the unit's carpenters were building a memorial to the deceased airmen nearby.

"There was nobody in this community when we flew in," Gilbert said. He and four airmen surveyed areas as possible locations to establish a base camp when they arrived. As they examined the school grounds, the school superintendent drove up and asked them what they were doing on the school grounds.

Gilbert explained who he was and what the 202nd could do. He told her that the 202nd could help rebuild the schools and the community. The superintendent cried and hugged him. They have been there ever since.

"People can now occupy this school," Gilbert said.

Gilbert said that airmen from the 202nd have worked relief operations for Hurricanes Charlie, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne, Dennis - and now Katrina. Collectively the airmen have been away from their homes for more than five months this past year alone.

The 202nd, when coupled with its sister unit - the 203rd - in Virginia Beach, Va., is a 400-person strong unit that can provide plumbers, electricians, heating and air-conditioning technicians, power-plant professionals, utilities technicians, supply personnel, pest controllers, engineers, heavy-equipment operators and mechanics to a construction, natural disaster or combat mission.

The airmen here are working 17 hours a day, Gilbert said, because "that's what it takes for missions like this."

"We're doing reverse osmosis right now," Gilbert said pointing to the rear of the camp. "We fired up the machine and found a creek and started producing potable water," he said.

The 202nd is on orders through November, but will likely depart the area in December, Gilbert said. Camp Haywood is the temporary home to 417 soldiers from the Florida National Guard.

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