Story by Senior Airman Jacob Hancock and published on DVIDS.
Members of the Florida Air National Guard’s 202nd Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operations Repair Squadron Engineers (RED HORSE) Squadron assist southern Floridians affected by Hurricane Ian, clearing damage caused by the hurricane from public roadways.
The 202nd RED HORSE Squadron is uniquely trained, qualified, and prepared to respond alongside the Army and other first responders during natural disasters such as Ian. This self-sustaining unit provides the Air Force and the state of Florida with a highly mobile and rapidly deployable civil engineering response force capable of performing heavy damage repair.
“We’ve been responding to major hurricanes for over the last 30 years in the state of Florida,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Jason Davis, a civil engineering officer with the 202nd RED HORSE Squadron. “We have all the heavy equipment, all the training, and all the tools necessary to do these kinds of jobs. It’s something we’re really good at doing.”
While most of their transportation is by land, the unit has also traveled in unique ways to serve the citizens of Florida. For the first time in the unit’s history, members and their equipment were airlifted to Pine Island, Florida to being their work in St. James City yesterday; additional members and equipment were also transported by barge to Sanibel and Captiva Islands today.
“It’s an awesome experience to get to work with the different branches,” said Tech. Sgt. Chris Linton, a heavy equipment operations supervisor with the 202nd RED HORSE Squadron. “We all come together for one big mission and come out and truly help the all citizens of Florida as one big team.”
While most of the Airmen attached to the 202nd RED HORSE Squadron are assigned to the unit permanently, there are individuals from all career fields aiding in the recovery efforts. Senior Airman Harlee Sharp, an avionics intermediate systems journeyman at the 125th Maintenance Squadron, is an ongoing example, as she assists the 202nd RED HORSE Squadron with their road clearance mission in south Florida.
“In the Air National Guard, my job by trade is an aircraft mechanic, but [during disasters] such as this we are here to fill any role that the state needs,” Sharp explained. “As Guardsmen, we are your neighbors and teachers, we’re just normal members in the community that are here [to help] in any times of crisis or disaster. We’re here to serve the people and ensure everyone is safe.”
These Florida Airmen are just a small piece of Joint Task Force Florida executing missions in response to Hurricane Ian. About 5,164 individuals converged to provide life saving measures and start the rebuilding process since the storm hit.
“As Airmen, we are here for our neighbors and the citizens of Florida,” said Airman Raymond Mills, a vehicle maintenance specialist at the 202nd RED HORSE Squadron. “We train for this, we’re doing everything we can to help, and that’s what it’s really about.”
When not serving on their state mission, the 202nd RED HORSE Squadron also independently responds to contingency and special operations in remote, high-threat environments world-wide.
These same red hats have had multiple deployments over the past year and responded to Hurricane Ida in September 2021. About a year after Ida, they are now working in the same conditions to restore infrastructure here in their own state.
“As Guardsmen, it’s an honor and a pleasure to be able to answer the call when it comes in,” Davis says. “When you see disasters like this, it’s awful and you want to be able to plug in and do your part to serve, and that’s exactly what this is.”