Virginia Air National Guard engineers demolish derelict structures in Petersburg

Airmen from the Virginia National Guard’s Virginia Beach-based 203rd RED HORSE Squadron use heavy equipment to demolish derelict structures associated with the drug trade Aug. 22 in Petersburg. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

PETERSBURG, Va. — Approximately 12 Airmen from the Virginia National Guard’s Virginia Beach-based 203rd RED HORSE Squadron supported the City of Petersburg by tearing down derelict structures associated with the drug trade from Aug. 19 to 30.  The Air Guard civil engineering unit provided heavy equipment and expertise to demolish 12 structures during the mission, and Airmen hauled away almost 815 tons of debris in 320 loads.

“This is a wonderful partnership that gives us as a city the chance to work with the National Guard in getting rid of some age-old problems,” said Petersburg Police Chief John Dixon. He said that residents in the area were very happy about the project and had given the police positive feedback.The Petersburg mission is the first for Operation Renew under the supervision of the Virginia National Guard Counterdrug Task Force. The program provides engineer assets to assist communities in reclaiming control of known drug trafficking areas tearing down derelict structures associated with the drug trade.

“Since the Governor’s days as attorney general we have had several partnerships with the City of Petersburg, and they have been successful,” said Marla Graff Decker, Virginia Secretary of Public Safety. “This partnership has also been a success and helps the community take back the good things about the City of Petersburg.”

The approximate cost for the mission is about $50,000. In 1989, Congress authorized the National Guard to perform drug interdiction and anti-drug activities in support of narcotic law enforcement agencies under Title 32 USC, section 112.  For more than 20 years, the Virginia National Guard Counterdrug Program has fostered and sustained positive relationships with a number of Virginia law enforcement agencies and community-based organizations.“We are very optimistic that with a successful mission here in Petersburg that more Virginia localities and state and federal agencies will request this Operation,” said 1st Lt. Eric Johnson, project manager for the program.

“Operation Renew enhances military readiness by allowing Army and Air Force National Guard members to utilize their equipment and exercise their military specialties in a real world mission,” Johnson said.  “Improved readiness for Virginia Guard Soldiers and Airmen proves to be a winning combination for the public safety of citizens and their children by supporting communities in the demolition of structures used in the drug trade.”

Municipalities requesting support from Operation Renew are responsible for submitting a written request to include description of drug nexus. Any additional costs for debris removal are the responsibility of the city.

The City of Petersburg submitted a written request for support for Operation Renew and validated that utilities had been turned off and no hazardous materials existed at each site. In addition to having the responsibility for hauling off the debris, the city provides police escort and appropriate city personnel presence at each demolition.

Johnson said that in 2003, the National Guard performed a demolition project in Petersburg under “Operation Razor” that tore down a one-story commercial building known to be used for drug trafficking.

Numerous organizations helped contribute to the project’s success including the Petersburg Fire Department, Public Works Department, Offices of the City Manager, City Attorney and Risk Managements, Johnson said. In particular he recognized J. Howard Hines from the Petersburg Code Compliance and Building Inspections Department who completed essential inspections and coordinated the abatement of hazardous materials that directly contributed to the safety of the Soldiers and Airmen working on the project. He also recognized Lt. Sheldon Wills of the Petersburg Police Department for his experience and knowledge, as well as his leadership as the chairman of the Abatement Compliance Enforcement Task Force that played a critical role in the establishment of the operation.

RED HORSE stands for Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers, and the unit provides a highly mobile civil engineering response force to support contingency operations worldwide. The 203rd  is a self-contained, rapid-response engineering force capable of doing expedient damage-requirements assessments, heavy-damage repairs, bare-base development and heavy construction operations such as constructing aircraft parking ramps, aprons, taxi and runways, roads and munitions pads. RED HORSE units possess special capabilities including well drilling, explosives demolition, quarry operations and concrete and asphalt paving. In addition, the unit has its own internal support personnel, including services, vehicle maintenance, security, logistics and information management.The unit was formed in 1985 and is paired with the 202nd RED HORSE Squadron based in Camp Blanding, Fla. The 203rd RHS has been mobilized and deployed to Southwest Asia in support of the Global War on Terrorism in 2003, 2006-2007 and again in 2011.  The unit has also conducted shorter deployment for horizontal and vertical construction projects to locations throughout the state, nation and world to include: Hawaii, Florida, South Carolina, Maryland, Washington, Arizona, New Mexico, California, Guam, England, Panama, Honduras, Italy and Germany.

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Senior government officials and Virginia Guard leaders visit Operation Renew<
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irginia Air National Guard engineers demolish derelict structures in Petersburg
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