A joint effort: Army and Air Force engineers partner for Global Response mission

  • Published
  • By Sgt. Kissta DiGregorio
  • 82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs

The roar of the aircraft's engines was heard from the ground, but not so much as a shadow could be seen through the thick, grey haze. As the sound passed overhead, one thing was clear; the C-17 Hercules' 1,250-foot altitude was well above the cloud ceiling. Certainly this meant the operation had been scratched.

Air Force engineers assigned to 820th RED HORSE Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., traveled to Fort Bragg, N.C., to partner with 20th Engineer Brigade, to participate in an airborne operation and airfield maintenance training, Feb. 23.

The airmen arrived at Fort Bragg a few days early to complete training on the T-11 parachute, the newest parachute adopted by the U.S. military. Their main task, however, was to conduct joint-service training to ensure engineers in both military branches have similar training and capabilities.

"Now that deployments have slowed down we're conducting more joint exercises to make a level playing field for training and expectations," said Air Force Capt. Kenneth Cooper, 820th RED HORSE Sqdn. flight commander. "If a combatant commander needs airfield maintenance, he's going to get the same support whether he calls us or (the Army)," Cooper said.

After removing their parachutes and placing their weapons into operation, the service members quickly de-rigged the heavy drop packages containing Humvees, dump trucks, an excavator, roller, and a runway repair kit. When the vehicles were freed from their bindings, vehicle operators jumped behind the wheels and got to work repairing the field landing strip for follow-on aircraft to land.

Several of these Army and Air Force engineers will be augmenting 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division during the Joint Operational Access Exercise, Feb. 27-March 9. During that time, the engineers will be responsible for filling craters and removing debris and notional land mines from the airfield to ensure follow-on aircraft can land safely to deliver additional equipment and service members to the fight. Because continual air lands can render the field landing strip hazardous, they will continue this maintenance throughout the duration of the exercise.

The engineers are also supporting 2BCT's real-world Global Response Force mission, which requires the service members to be ready for a no-notice deployment anywhere in the world at any time. If a GRF deployment involved an airborne assault, these engineers would be among the first to drop in.

This type of situation is exactly what they're training for.

"We're a pure engineer unit. We're the guys who go out and train and practice crater repair and (airfield maintenance)," said Spc. Harold Redding, a roller operator assigned to 20th Eng. Bde.'s 161st Eng. Co. Redding said his unit will be there to support 2BCT by maintaining the airfield as well as digging foxholes and fighting positions for those at the front of the fight. "Anything they need from us. We can do that for them to make their lives a little easier."

Although 2BCT has its own engineers who can provide basic support, these engineer units are able to bring more to the table. "We are an engineer company that can parachute in to create and repair an airfield far more than a sapper company can do in a brigade combat team," said Col. James Raymer, 20th Eng. Bde. commander. "Without us, the airfield might never open up."

Both sides consider this opportunity for joint training a positive experience.

"It's good to get to work with different people and see the branches come together," Redding said.

Cooper said he hopes the bond can continue. "We would like to keep this relationship going and plan to invite the Army to participate in our JFEX in May," he said.

So whether a deployment is in the future for these engineers or if they'll have to settle for training for the unknown, one thing is for sure; they'll be prepared for anything.

"I think whenever it happens I'll be ready and so will everyone else. We train so much it's become second nature," Redding said.