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Air National Guard Engineers Headed Into War

Monday, 16 Mar 2009 02:26 PM

By Nat Helms

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The Air National Guard Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force will deploy involuntarily to combat zones in “historic numbers and scope” during the next two years, senior Air Guard officials announced Friday.

The exact number of airmen being called up for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan is classified, Guard official Randy Noller told Newsmax. However, the mandatory mobilization involves nearly one-eighth of the Air Guard's civil engineer squadrons – the so-called Prime BEEF units – and differs from previous deployments when “citizen-airmen” volunteered for overseas assignments, said Noller, a spokesman for the National Guard at Andrews Air Force Base.

Prime BEEF squadrons are 50 to 200-member teams of highly skilled civil engineering personnel. Selected pieces of heavy construction equipment are earmarked to accompany the deployment teams, Noller said.

The airmen will be called up from the 87 Prime BEEF units in the Air National Guard. They include electricians, plumbers, carpenters, heavy equipment operators, and heating and air-conditioning specialists who maintain military bases at home and overseas.

The program "organizes civil engineering force teams for worldwide direct and indirect combat support roles. It assigns civilian employees and military personnel to peacetime base maintenance and wartime engineering functions," according to the Air Force.

"We have large groups being involuntarily mobilized in the beginning and middle of 2009," Air Force Col. John Elwood of the Air Guard Readiness Center's Civil Engineer Office said. More call-ups will come in 2010, he said.

The units will deploy to Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

"As you take down a base or build one, someone has to manage the electric, the water, the buildings, and the runways and maintain them," Elwood explained Thursday. "This is all part of that process."

What their mission will be remains classified, Noller said.

The call-ups were announced just days after President Barack Obama’s administration announced plans to spend billions of dollars rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. On March 3, Obama announced the release of $28 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to states and local transportation authorities to repair and build highways, roads and bridges.

This investment will lead to 150,000 jobs saved or created by the end of 2010, government officials said.

Many of the men and women being called up for wartime duty overseas work in the construction trades that have been decimated by layoffs and job cuts in the recession.

Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Novello, commander of the New Jersey Air National Guard's 108th Civil Engineer Squadron, broke the news of its involuntary deployment to his command last month.

Novello said in a news release that the absence of his entire squadron, which maintains McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., will require "strict planning" to keep base construction and repair projects going.

"That's a problem we are addressing," he reportedly said.

The New Jersey based airmen soon will head to the Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., regional training center where they will be joined by other Prime BEEFs to polish their wartime skills, the Air Force said. They will also attend an Air Force Silver Flag expeditionary readiness exercise at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.

The Air Guard’s vaunted “Red Horse” construction squadrons are also slated for deployment overseas.

Lt. Col. Terry Robinson, logistics officer for the Pennsylvania Air Guard's 201st Red Horse squadron at Fort Indiantown Gap, said their combat deployment this year will be their third since 2002. The Air Guard has eight RED HORSE squadrons, of which three more will deploy overseas next year, Elwood said

Red Horse squadrons provide the Air Force with a “highly mobile civil engineering response force” capable of supporting special operations worldwide, according to the Air Force. They are self sufficient, 404-person units capable of “rapid response and independent operations in remote, high-threat environments worldwide.”

Like the Navy’s “Seabee” Construction Battalions, they provide heavy repair capability and construction support when requirements in dangerous combat environments. 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.

Their major wartime responsibilities are to provide a highly mobile, rapidly deployable, civil engineering response force that is self-sufficient to perform heavy damage repair required for recovery of critical Air Force facilities and utility systems, and aircraft launch and recovery, the Air Force says.

Their special capabilities include explosive demolition and concrete and asphalt operations, as well as rock quarrying.

Where they will be deployed has not been released, Noller said.

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