The 202nd Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operations Repair Squadron Engineers Squadron, or RED HORSE, cleared tons of debris from roads in Fort Myers and the barrier-islands off shore after Hurricane Ian made landfall in southwest Florida on Sept. 28.
“We’ve been responding to major hurricanes for over the last 30 years in the state of Florida,” said Capt. Jason Davis, a civil engineering officer with the unit. “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.”
With bridges out, unit members and equipment didn’t reach Pine Island until Oct. 3. They did so via aircraft to work in St. James City. Additional squadron assets traveled by barge to Sanibel and Captiva islands Oct. 4.
On the islands, unit members were part of a response that involved more than 5,200 Guard soldiers and airmen from several states, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard.
“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 the citizens of Florida as one big team.”
In addition to clearing debris from roads, Guard missions included delivering vital supplies and equipment, supporting law enforcement, and conducting search and rescue operations that saved the lives of more than 2,000 people and 50 pets.
Ian’s 150mph winds and resulting flooding and storm surge claimed more than 130 lives and caused as much as $40 billion in property damage. The storm was the strongest hurricane to hit the state since 1935, according to Florida authorities.
While most of the airmen with the 202nd RED HORSE Squadron on the road-clearing mission were permanently assigned to the unit, augmentees for other Florida Air Guard units were also involved. Senior Airman Harlee Sharp, a member of the 125th Maintenance Squadron, was among them.
“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 said. “As Guardsmen, we are your neighbors and teachers. We’re just normal members in the community that are here in any times of crisis or disaster. We’re here to serve the people and ensure everyone is safe.”
The 202nd RED HORSE Squadron is an especially busy unit. It has had multiple deployments over the past year and responded to Hurricane Ida in Louisiana to clear roads September 2021.
“As Guardsmen, it’s an honor and a pleasure to be able to answer the call when it comes in,” Davis says. “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.”
— By Senior Airman Jacob Hancock