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NEWS | Nov. 28, 2023

4-day exercise sharpens 203rd RHS's expeditionary skills

By A.J. Coyne | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

Virginia National Guard Airmen assigned to the Virginia Beach-based 203rd Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers, 192nd Mission Support Group, 192nd Wing, trained on their expeditionary skills during a field training exercise Nov. 2-5, 2023, at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Over four days, the 203rd Airmen prepared for deployment, set up two separate operational sites, established a security perimeter and conducted security operations such as responding to demonstrations outside the gate, assaults on the base and other hostile situations.

“As we transition out of the Middle East and look to the next wars, the concept of how we support the Air Force’s mission is changing,” said Maj. Scott Harman, 203rd RED HORSE deputy commander. “We are training to build bases in a contested environment where every airman will be needed to do tasks outside of their assigned jobs. The training we do now will prepare the Airmen of the Virginia Air National Guard to successfully accomplish those future missions.”     

The 203rd RED HORSE provides highly-mobile civil engineering teams to support contingency and special operations worldwide. They are self-sufficient with rapid response capabilities for independent operations in remote, high-threat environments and can create or repair runways and erect permanent structures in a matter of weeks from concept and design to engineering and construction.

“We’re conducting a field exercise to exercise our capabilities for military engineering capabilities to do force bed down as well as our site security and practice our CBRNE [Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and high yield Explosives] defense capabilities,” explained Senior Master Sgt. Philip McLawhorn, lead inspector for the exercise. “The site scenario is actually two different sites working in conjunction with our headquarters building to simulate what we call the ‘spoke and hub’ method of deployment, where we actually take the unit and separate it based off the engineering tasks that are assigned but still can maintain our self-sufficient capabilities.”

On Thursday they simulated the actual deployment process. Airmen were issued gear, received briefings they would get prior to deployment, and they built up cargo to simulate mobilizing the unit to go out the door.

On Friday they set up the two sites, including numerous tents and perimeter security. That evening they conducted security operations and dealt with hostile actors.
On Saturday they conducted CBRNE response operations as well as other defensive postures.
Finally, on Sunday, they redeployed.

The 203rd last conducted an in-place field exercise about four years ago, prior to its last deployment, estimated McLawhorn.

Since that last exercise, the Air Force has implemented Agile Combat Employment. ACE is an operational concept designed to support joint all-domain operations.

According to U.S. Air Force doctrine, ACE teams consist of unit-assigned Multi-Capable Airmen. These teams are tailored portions of force packages able to provide mission generation, command and control, and base operating support as the mission dictates. The use of Multi-Capable Airmen can reduce the number of people who must be put in harm’s way to generate airpower relative to traditional manning models.

“The idea is to have Multi-Capable Airmen, which means Airmen can do multiple tasks to support any type of Air Force area wherever we go,” McLawhorn explained. “It reduces manpower and the ACE program says we have multiple AFSCs [Air Force Specialty Code] so we interchange them. Instead of working in shops who are only along their specialty, now they are working together in small teams, almost like an Army platoon, where everyone has their own AFSC but they are all subject matter experts working together to accomplish their goals.”

“With the near-peer competition approach in today’s U.S. military, our training is essential for preparing our personnel to be the Multi-Capable Airmen that are needed for success,” said Chief Master Sgt. Karl L. Burnell, the 203rd RHS senior enlisted leader. “This training will propel us to be mission ready when our nation calls.”

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