OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — The U.S. Air Force in South Korea is training a team of engineering troops for quick helicopter airlift into battle-damaged areas where their repair and construction skills would be needed in wartime.

The 554th Red Horse Squadron here began training the team in August and expects to have it fully ready to operate by this fall, said Capt. Terry Vance, the squadron’s chief of engineering, and officer in charge of the team.

Troops are learning air assault, fast-roping, rappelling, combat first aid and an array of other skills needed to move themselves and their construction gear quickly by helicopter or transport plane.

The team’s main role would be to fly to battle-damaged airfields and quickly return them to service. It also can provide the air war commander a trained engineer’s appraisal of the extent of battle damage to runways, buildings, electric power, water supply, and other parts of the site.

And the team will fly in with engineering tools, Humvees and construction equipment.

Called the Assault Assessment and Repair Operations-Engineering Team, or AARO-ET, the unit eventually is to number 21 airmen, all volunteers.

It won’t be set up to take on big-scale repair or construction jobs — building an entire airfield, for example. Instead, it’ll concentrate on urgent, short- term missions in which rapid runway repair and similar work is needed to allow aircraft to fly again.

The team would be at the disposal of the 7th Air Force commander here, who, in his role of air component commander, would be in charge of the air war. The 554th Red Horse Squadron is under 7th Air Force, commanded by Lt. Gen. Gary R. Trexler.

Having the team trained and equipped to reach key areas by helicopter frees it from depending on roads, which in wartime can be knocked out by enemy action or bad weather, or clogged with vehicles or refugee traffic. “Traditionally, Red Horse has been a unit that moves along the ground,” said Vance. “We are restricted to vehicle traffic here in Korea … it may not be feasible to move a support convoy along the highways system at a given time when it may be critical to the air component commander.”

As part of their training, some team members are being sent to the U.S. Army’s air assault schools. Three have completed the training at Scofield Barracks, Hawaii, last October. Another three trained last month at Fort Campbell, Ky. Another four are scheduled for the training this summer, Vance said.

“They’re receiving more infantry-style training because typically, for Air Force civil engineers, we don’t get that type of background,” said Vance. “But it is something that is inherently required with this mission.”

Most team members will also attend the Army’s combat life-saver course, Vance said, “so they’ll have a much higher level of training for a contingency environment.”

The airmen also are trained in how to size up the condition of pavement, important in assessing the condition of a runway or taxiway; how to prepare cargo for airlift; how to work with aircraft in getting loads hooked or unhooked; as well as skills including crash and fire rescue and working with explosives.

“This represents a cross-section of the civil engineering skill sets,” said Vance, “so that when we go somewhere to assess an airfield or an infrastructure, we’ve got all of those necessary skill sets with us.”

The team’s equipment load is also tailored to its battlefield-oriented mission. It includes 10 major pieces, including three Humvees, backhoes, a tracked dump-truck that can be fitted with a bulldozer blade, other vehicles and a variety of steel “CONEX” containers for transporting the team’s many tools and other needed items.

Each airman would carry a large pack and sufficient food and water “to survive for three days in the field without any outside support,” Vance said.

Airmen also will be trained to use the M4 carbine, 9 mm pistol and other individual weapons.

In wartime, the team and its equipment would be picked up by CH-47 Chinook helicopters and flown to its destination. Team members also are trained to use C-130 Hercules transport, Vance said.

With his entire 15 years in the Air Force spent in civil engineering, Tech Sgt. Christopher Jayne thought the team would be “just a good challenge” and volunteered.

“Not many people in the Air Force get to rappel out of a helicopter,” said Jayne, who finds the team very different.

For example, he said, he’s used to having the base services squadron cook and serve meals but now he thinks in terms of MREs, or Meals, Ready to Eat.

“It’s a whole different way of thinking,” said Jayne. “You no longer are thinking about, ‘Oh, service is gonna come cook me dinner … I got to take enough MREs with me to last however long it’s gonna take … You just gotta plan to take everything you’re gonna need, with you … If you didn’t bring it, you didn’t have it.”

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