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Air Force engineers do the heavy lifting for new Bagram repair shop

Staff Sgt. John Sikora tightens bolts on a framework for a new hangar at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 27, 2018. Sikora is with the 557th Expeditionary Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers, Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.

KRISTIN HIGH/U.S. AIR FORCE

By J.P. LAWRENCE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 29, 2018

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — A team of airmen piloting cranes hefted 1-ton steel beams, erecting the skeleton of a repair facility for aircraft flying missions against Taliban and Islamic State forces in Afghanistan.

The airmen, members of the 557th Expeditionary Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operations Repair Squadron Engineer — or “Red Horse” Squadron — have spent the past four months building a new home for the base’s top hospital for damaged aircraft.

The airmen have battled the weather throughout their time at this base north of Kabul. The sun heats up the steel beams so much, it’s often impossible to work except at night, said Staff Sgt. Derek Reimer, the team’s Bagram project manager. And whatever the temperatures, high winds often make it dangerous to use the cranes.

When his team first arrived at the site, everything was flooded from heavy rains, Reimer said.

The Red Horse squadron is currently augmented by two members of the unit’s sister organization, Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force, also known as “Prime Beef.”

Whenever a plane needs extensive repairs, their crews go to this repair shop when they need a part made or a broken part repaired, said Master Sgt. Andrew Clark, fabrication chief of the 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.

“We build pretty much anything and everything that anyone on this base needs, either through cutting, bending, machining, welding metal back together — if you can dream it, we can make it,” Clark said.

Clark and the other maintainers are working in three temporary tents with no indoor plumbing, where they continue to build and repair parts. They are waiting for a new facility to replace their older, somewhat dilapidated repair shop, which has been in service more than a decade and has scars from mortar hits, Clark said.

The crew has worked on almost all airframes serving in Afghanistan, he said. This has meant repairing Afghan air force Mi-17 helicopters and their UH-60 Black Hawk replacements.

About a quarter of their jobs are emergency work. They recently repaired damaged panels for an F-16, a fix that took about 12 hours, Clark said. It would have taken a week to ship in replacement parts.

The engineering squadron airmen, who have their headquarters at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, are trained to build up bases from scratch in austere environments and to fight while doing so if necessary. Unlike civil engineer squadrons, the unit is designed for rapid deployments and heavy construction. The Red Horse squadron is currently spread out across eight countries, a spokeswoman said.

“The work we’re doing with this facility is mainly improving the base,” Reimer said. “Our maintainers can have indoor plumbing, they’ll have more space and their working capabilities will go up.”

lawrence.jp@stripes.com
Twitter: @jplawrence3

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