RED HORSE Airmen support Army in southern Baghdad

FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq -- In the midst of the ongoing security surge around Baghdad, a team of Airmen with heavy construction skills and expertise are helping fortify the Army's presence at Forward Operating Base Kalsu, south of the city.

It's a dynamic situation for the Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer Airmen, said Capt. Kelvin Haywood, the 557th Expeditionary RED HORSE engineer flight commander.

"The Army got with the Air Force RED HORSE because we are the experts in construction," he said. "Because of the many taskings they have for the surplus of Soldiers, they asked us to come out and help them with their headquarters construction here."

The Army had good reason to approach the Air Force. RED HORSE squadrons are self-sufficient with a variety of career fields, from heavy horizontal and vertical construction to plumbing and electrical work. They support contingency and special operations with civil engineering expertise in both peacetime and hostile locations around the world. Based out of Balad Air Base, Iraq, the unit at Forward Operating Base Kalsu is just one of many expeditionary RED HORSE squadrons scattered around the region.

Being at this particular forward operating base has presented many unique challenges for the team. Located in an area often referred to as "the Triangle of Death," convoys to the forward operating base have been slow and infrequent due to security issues, which meant equipment and material doesn't always arrive as planned.

"Normally, we come out here and hit the ground running," said Tech. Sgt. Rain Albertson, a 557th ERHS electrical technician. "Everything we need is usually right there waiting for us. Out here, we had nothing. We had to wait for the material to come to us."

Once the material arrived, the 37 Airmen went right to work, completing their first project -- putting up barrier walls for the forward operating base's fuel cell -- within days.

"With the troop surge, the deadlines are more urgent," Sergeant Albertson said. "The Army needs these projects to be completed as soon as possible. The pace is definitely a lot more intense than anything I've seen."

From dawn to dusk, Airmen work in the sun where temperatures can reach up to 115 degrees. They are constructing elevated wooden buildings that will eventually be used as Army headquarters for the units assigned to the forward operating base.

The heat alone presents a problem, as does the complete forward operating base black-out at night for security.

"We constantly bring out cold water to the guys to keep them hydrated," said Master Sgt. Lori Bordman, a 557th ERHS electrical technician and the flight's acting first sergeant while out in the field. "It would be so much easier if we could do our work at night when it is cooler, but without light, we can't. So we do what we can as long as the sun is up."

The team has also had to deal with the constant threat of incoming mortar attacks. Recently, one of their completed buildings took a direct hit.

"Thankfully, no one was hurt," Sergeant Bordman said. "It was around lunch time and about five guys were in the building (at the time), but they were able to get to the shelter."

Wasting no time, the crew gathered up their resources and made the needed repairs. Because of the urgent demand for completed projects, everyone chips in where they can. Plumbers help the wood cutters while electricians swing hammers. It's a team effort all around with Airmen jumping in wherever they are needed, Sergeant Bordman said.

"All of us are working hard out here," Captain Haywood said. "It's a tough environment, but we all want to get the job done."