PETERSBURG, Va. – Soldiers and Airmen from the Virginia National Guard brought their heavy equipment to Petersburg Aug. 19 – 30 to demolish decaying homes as part of Operation Renew.
“The purpose of this mission is basically to help the community get rid of some of the blighted properties in the area and to help reduce the drug demand,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Cory Wheeler, assigned to the Virginia Guard Counterdrug Task Force and the project officer for the Petersburg Operation Renew mission.
Approximately 30 Virginia Guard engineers participated in the operation, which provides engineer assets to assist communities in reclaiming control of known drug trafficking areas by tearing down derelict structures associated with the drug trade.
“This is a great day for Petersburg. We really appreciate what the National Guard is doing,” said Mayor Brian A. Moore, the mayor of Petersburg. “This partnership will continue to allow us to work toward the reduction of crime and improve the community outlook.”
Operation Renew operates under the supervision of the Virginia Guard Counterdrug Task Force and in conjunction with the City of Petersburg and local law enforcement.
This year’s mission was the second for the Virginia National Guard and included Soldiers from the Powhatan-based 180th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, and Airmen from the Virginia Beach-based RED HORSE Squadron.
“This is my first time working hands on with the Virginia Army Guard,” said Master Sgt. Shawn Minard, of the 203rd RED HORSE. “It’s a great opportunity for us to learn what they do and for them to learn what we do.”
The Soldiers and Airmen worked together to demolish a total of 17 derelict structures, often sharing the same job site in order to safely complete the mission.
“They’re working great together,” Wheeler said. “The first property we took down actually had to involve both the Air and the Army so they didn’t damage any other property.”
In order to participate in Operation Renew, the City of Petersburg submitted a written request that included a description of the drug problems affecting the area. They city also ensured utilities had been turned off at each of the potential demolition sites, provided a police escort for the Soldiers and Airmen as they moved their equipment through Petersburg and while they worked on site, as well as additional personnel from the city.
“These areas where these houses are being torn down have been areas where we’ve had crime, where we’ve had things all the way up to murder take place,” said John I. Dixon, police chief for the City of Petersburg. “Now that these are no longer those type of locations, it gives us an opportunity and it gives the community the opportunity to feel comfortable and to feel safe in the area.”
Some of the homes slated for demolition this year came equipped with asbestos, which required Soldiers and Airmen to undergo additional training in how to properly dispose of asbestos-contaminated materials as well as how to safely operate on a job site where asbestos-laden materials may be present. Workers on the site wore air monitors to ensure the air around the site during the demolition was safe for the Soldiers and Airmen to breathe. The training provided the Soldiers and Airmen with additional engineer-based knowledge.
Operation Renew enhances military readiness by allowing Army and Air Force National Guard members to utilize their equipment in a way they often don’t, and to exercise their engineer skills in a real world mission.
“It’s good training value for the troops,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Quinn, of the 180th Engineer Company. “They all get in there and get a chance to do something they don’t usually get to do. We’re usually building something and out here we get to tear something down and it gives a lot of the Soldiers the opportunity to do something new.”
“Demoing residential properties is a lot different than building a road,” said Wheeler. “It gives them the opportunity to see how their equipment reacts to the houses and how the houses react to the equipment.”
Along with providing the engineers with additional training and experience, Operation Renew also allows the Soldiers and Airmen to be a visible part of the community.
“This lets us show they community that we area a part of their community as well. We’re giving back to the communities that we live in” Minard said. “They asked for our help, and we’re here to provide that help.”
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.
“It’s an honor for us to be here and share the skills that the Air Guard and the Army Guard have,” said Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia.
The 180th Engineer Company recently took part in a battalion-wide effort to replace culverts and improve road conditions at the Virginia National Guard Fort Pickett Maneuver Training Center near Blackstone during their 2013 annual training period. They also took part in community service projects in Richmond and Stafford County during their annual training in 2012 and 2011 where they cleared land for a bike and pedestrian trail and Civil War park. The unit returned from a nine-month federal deployment to Iraq in October 2009 where they conducted more than 20 engineer missions, with six of them taking more than two months to complete. Missions included building or expanding small forward-operating bases used for joint security patrols with Iraqi forces, unmanned aerial vehicle airstrip construction, training compound improvements for the Iraqi Special Forces, site preparation for a bridge installation and the reopening of the last stretch of Iraqi Highway 1.
The 203rd RED HORSE Squadron 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, Florida. 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.
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.