ST. JAMES CITY, Fla. (AFNS) --
Airmen of the Florida Air National Guard’s 202nd RED HORSE Squadron are assisting southern Floridians affected by Hurricane Ian, clearing damage from public roadways caused by the hurricane.
RED HORSE, or Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operations Repair Squadron Engineers, 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 Capt. Jason Davis, a 202nd RED HORSE Squadron civil engineering officer. “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 to begin their work in St. James City Oct. 4; additional members and equipment were also transported by barge to Sanibel and Captiva Islands Oct. 5.
“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 all the 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 mission of clearing roads 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 202nd RED HORSE Squadron vehicle maintenance specialist. “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 worldwide.
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 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 said. “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.”