RED HORSE Airmen battle heat, darkness to shape future

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- On a construction site at the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, all five senses are constantly bombarded. The sun scorches every inch of uncovered skin. Gusting winds kick up sand and dirt, making it difficult to see. Deafening machines saturate the air with the smell and taste of fumes.

For members of the 557th Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers, better known as RED HORSE, this is an average day at work.

These Airmen, charged with large-scale projects, handle some of the toughest construction jobs in the Air Force, inside and outside the wire.

“Our engineers are accomplishing incredible feats by constructing the next 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing operating location,” said Senior Master Sgt. Martin Pitre, the 557th RED HORSE superintendent. “Every phase in constructing a pre-engineered building is present on one construction site. This is a rare occurrence when craftsman can engage in all phases of building construction from start to finish.”

In the morning, a convoy arrives to the site. Airmen pile out, grab their gear and get to work. It’s early, but the sun and temperature are quickly rising. By noon, empty water bottles are scattered across the site as Airmen attempt to stay hydrated in the heat.

“You’re just dirty all the time,” said Tech. Sgt. Adam Wright, the 557th RED HORSE project manager. “When the wind is out with the heat if feels like you’re in a dryer. Your body gets tired pretty quickly. It can be a challenge, but you have to keep on pressing to get the job done.”

There’s a certain point when the heat is deemed unbearable and unsafe to work outside. It’s at that point when the RED HORSE Airmen are told to call it a day. But everyone knows there’s a schedule to maintain. A handful of Airmen are tasked to work a night shift, when the temperature drastically changes.

“It’s 65 degrees out here at night, not 110, and that makes everything better,” said Staff Sgt. Shannon Beavin, a 557th RED HORSE structural craftsman. “Our leadership gives the project managers free reign to get in our hours. Since we can work safely at night, with all the lights and equipment we have, it actually speeds up the operation for us because of the temperature difference.”

With floodlights beaming down, a group of Airmen work into the night, putting up steel frames for what will eventually be a civil engineer shop. It’s one of many structures the squadron is charged with building over the coming months, enhancing mission capabilities throughout the area of responsibility.

“We’re doing good work,” Beavin said. “We’ll have nine of these buildings complete by the time we’re done with our rotation. Everyone is working hard, they’re all trained up and doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”

Before the first ray of sunlight creeps over the horizon, their shift comes to an end. The sound of machinery whines down and lights shut off. The once-illuminated scene is pitch-black as the Airmen put the construction site behind them.

They return to their living areas covered head to toe in a fine layer of dirt, sand and concrete. While this may have been an average day for the Airmen of the 557th RED HORSE, their day's work built the future for the men and women of the 332nd AEW.