New mission, new chapter unfolds at Willow Grove

  • Published
  • By Capt. Renee T. Lillis
  • 111th Fighter Wing
The most coveted uniform item at the 111th Fighter Wing is no longer the new Airman Battle Uniform, it's a red cap.

On April 5, more than 100 guardsmen sported the red caps for the first time and cheerfully yelled "to the HORSE" during the 201st RED HORSE Squadron, Det. 1 activation ceremony at Willow Grove Air Reserve Station, Pa.

"What a proud day for this unit and the Air Force. Today is a historic day as the 201st Det. 1 begins to write the next chapter," said Maj. Geno J. Rapone, as he accepted command of the new detachment.

RED HORSE stands for Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer. These units are self sufficient, 404-person mobile squadrons that provide major force bed-down, heavy damage repair, and heavy engineering operations in remote, high-threat environments worldwide. They are the service equivalent of the Army Corps of Engineers or Navy Seabees.
RED HORSE squadrons possess special capabilities, such as water-well drilling, explosive demolition, quarry operations, concrete mobile operations, material testing, expedient facility erection, and concrete and asphalt paving.
"Basically our job is to go out to the middle of nowhere and build an air base in two weeks and leave," explained Rapone.

It's this capability that makes the highly mobile force the elite corps of Air Force engineers.

"What a vital group out there - a global asset. It's extremely exciting to bring home this mission and see all the positive energy out there," said Col. Paul W. Comtois, 111th FW commander.

Also significant, is the fact that Pennsylvania is now the only state to have a full RED HORSE squadron.

Air National Guard RED HORSE squadrons are typically split units that report to different commanders, but merge to form a whole squadron to deploy for contingency operations.
The 201st RHS at Fort Indiantown Gap used to combine with the 200 RHS, Ohio ANG. However, with the activation of the Willow Grove detachment, Pennsylvania became the only state to have a full RED HORSE squadron.
Now that the unit is activated, there is still a lot of work to be done. The unit has until 2010 to reach its initial operating capacity. In addition to engineers, the unit also needs to have its own doctors, security forces, finance personnel and more to be a self-sufficient deployable unit.
In the coming months the unit will continue setting up infrastructure, securing equipment and weapons, as well as staffing up and training personnel to prepare for their important wartime mission. And the red hats that distinguish them will become a proud and lasting fixture at Willow Grove.