203rd RED HORSE performing humanitarian construction in Panama

Airmen from the 203rd RED HORSE Squadron pour a retaining wall footer during a 12-week humanitarian construction effort in Panama. They are partnered with the 200th RED HORSE Squadron from Ohio to build an addition to a medical facility currently serving 30,000 members of the community, as well as a dorm facility to house visiting medical staff not from the local area. The effort was part of a larger humanitarian civic assistance exercise, Beyond the Horizon 2013, led by Joint Task Force Jaguar, Army Southern Command in which Soldiers and Airmen specializing in engineering, construction and health care provide needed services to communities while receiving valuable deployment training and building important relationships with partner nations. (Contributed photo)

Airmen from the 203rd RED HORSE Squadron pour a retaining wall footer during a 12-week humanitarian construction effort in Panama. They are partnered with the 200th RED HORSE Squadron from Ohio to build an addition to a medical facility currently serving 30,000 members of the community, as well as a dorm facility to house visiting medical staff not from the local area. The effort was part of a larger humanitarian civic assistance exercise, Beyond the Horizon 2013, led by Joint Task Force Jaguar, Army Southern Command in which Soldiers and Airmen specializing in engineering, construction and health care provide needed services to communities while receiving valuable deployment training and building important relationships with partner nations. (Contributed photo)

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Members of the Virginia National Guard’s Virginia Beach-based 203rd RED HORSE Squadron are currently deployed to Panama for a 12-week humanitarian construction effort as part of Beyond the Horizon 2013 led by Joint Task Force Jaguar, Army Southern Command. Work on the project began in early April.

U.S. military personnel have been in Belize, El Salvador, and Panama since April to conduct comprehensive humanitarian civic assistance exercises, and their efforts will continue through June. As part of the Beyond the Horizon and New Horizons exercise programs, Soldiers and Airmen specializing in engineering, construction and health care are providing needed services to communities while receiving valuable deployment training and building important relationships with partner nations.

The 203rd RHS has been working with the 200th RED HORSE Squadron from Camp Perry and Mansfield Air National Guard Base, Ohio, to build a stand-alone addition to a medical facility currently serving 30,000 members of the community, as well as a dorm facility to house visiting medical staff not from the local area.

“To be able to expand the services that the medical clinic can provide to those people is probably the best thing we’ve been able to accomplish. Some of the staff that work at the clinic currently have to stay in a host family home from the community, so by having a dorm, having rooms there, they can have medical staff at the clinic 24 hours,” said Lt. Col. Pete Garner, 203rd RED HORSE Squadron commander.

“Also, we haven’t worked with the 200th RED HORSE Squadron before, and it’s been a great relationship. We’ve made some good friends and good working partners with the 200th, and I hope we can continue that relationship in the future,” he said.

While in Panama, the RED HORSE squadrons are learning new skills on a type of construction material they’ve not used before, called NUFORM. Essentially, it is comprised of 9-feet-tall plastic panels that slide and interlock together. The concrete is then poured inside of it.

“It’s like a combination between an Erector Set and Legos,” said Garner.

The dorm and medical clinic addition aren’t the only construction efforts going on as part of BTH 2013. The site that 203rd and 200th are responsible for is just one of three construction sites and four medical sites also part of the humanitarian effort.

“There are so many other teams in the region: civil affairs, public affairs, information operations, a lot of support folks reaching out into the communities talking to people about why we’re there and what we’re trying to do. We’ve also trained with Army engineers at a separate construction site, and it provided us an opportunity to showcase our technical expertise,” said Garner.

“Everyone we ran into from the local area had nothing but good things to say about the military. It was a good opportunity to go in and do some projects from the local communities to build that rapport and relationship,” said Senior Master Sgt. Darryl Riddle, Operation Manager for the 203rd RED HORSE Squadron.

For some of the Airmen, it was their first time deploying. As is the case with most deployments, some unexpected challenges were presented to include a delay in materials and a temporary lack of running water at the base where the Airmen were staying.

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.