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Air Force members rediscover RED HORSE legacy in Haiti

  • Published
  • By Capt. Nathan D. Broshear
  • 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Public Affairs
Engineers from the 190th Air Refueling Wing and 184th Intelligence Wing, Kansas Air National Guard, were conducting a routine survey of the field adjacent to the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti when they discovered a group of Airmen had been there before. While leveling the field, Airmen noticed the words "820 RHS 94 95 96" on an enormous concrete block. The podium shaped block was so large engineers driving earthmovers left it in the center of the newly-formed 24th Air Expeditionary Group encampment.

"Discovering this was a complete surprise to me," said Col. Dan Courtois, the 24th Air Expeditionary Group commander. "It's a good feeling to know we are following in the footsteps of other Airmen who have helped the people of Haiti."

Civil Engineers from the 118th Airlift Wing and the 134th Air Refueling Squadron, Tennessee Air National Guard, also helped to erect the Air Force encampment. "It must be an ideal location for an encampment, because our engineers and the RED HORSE teams chose the exact same spot," said Colonel Courtois.

The 36-inch-wide, 45-inch-tall block of concrete is weathered, but shows hardly a scratch given its age. At one time, it's believed to have been topped with metal horseshoes and the iconic RED HORSE emblem, now just faint imprints. In Haiti, metal is often scavenged from old buildings, debris or abandoned construction sites and sold as scrap to feed needy families.

Historical documents indicate the 820th RED HORSE squadron, was at the site in 1994 and 1995 during Operation Uphold Democracy. During the peacekeeping and nation-building operation, RED HORSE built a camp for 1,500 military members, repaired roads between the airport and nearby seaports and built a drainage system for the airport.

Late 1995 through early 1996 saw the return of the 820th RHS for Exercise FAIRWINDS. During the exercise engineers renovated a hospital, repaired roads and a school in Port-au-Prince. Today, Airmen of the 24th AEG are helping to keep air traffic and cargo flowing into Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport, assisting in the distribution of food, water and aid supplies, providing medical care to injured Haitians and assisting in cleanup and recovery efforts.

Tech. Sgt. Ron Saults, 24th Expeditionary Civil Engineering Squadron Power Production NCO in Charge deployed from the 134th ARW, was in Haiti with the RED HORSE team in 1994 and 1995. Sergeant Saults remembers the now-destroyed presidential palace and many of the sites he visited while working in Haiti on his first trip to the country more than 15 years ago. During his deployment, then-Staff Sgt. Saults provided power to Army and Air Force units just as he does for Operation Unified Response. But in 1995, it took a bit longer to receive the amenities Airmen enjoy today.

"It took more than three months for our team to receive air conditioning -- today we have A/C immediately," said Sergeant Saults. "Our unit traveled around the country in convoys repairing schools and visiting orphanages, in many ways, Haiti is still the same place I remember -- I half expected to see a Haitian Airways C-47 sitting on the ramp when I got off the plane."

For now, the concrete reminder of U.S. Air Force history marks the edge of a parking area and a new row of tents for the growing AEG. Airmen walk past the block as they board buses bound for rubble removal sites, medical facilities or head for the flight line to unload aircraft full of relief supplies. Like the stalwart stone, Airmen are a friend that can be counted on, says the commander.

"The Air Force is again in Haiti to assist the people in a time of need -- and we'll be here as long as the Joint Task Force needs us," said Colonel Courtois.