TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
Technical Sgt. Chase Pavlic was weary.
For nearly two weeks in February, he and dozens of Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 307th Civil Engineer Squadron had battled humidity, mosquitoes and enemy attacks during a Silver Flag exercise here. The backdrop of Tyndall Air Force Base, still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Michael, only added to the reality of the war-time scenario.
Pavlic scanned the landscape of mangled trees and damaged buildings, reacting to a radio warning of sniper activity in the area. The easy-going noncommissioned officer turned to the Airman beside him and tried to bring some levity to the situation.
“Keep your eyes peeled,” Pavlic said, smiling at the tired troop. “If you see someone pointing a rifle at you, he’s not your friend.”
That type of calming humor wove its way throughout Silver Flag, an intense course run by the 823rd Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers (REDHORSE). It teaches and reinforces skills necessary for civil engineers to enter a hostile, unestablished area and create a working air base.
The experience pushed the Reserve Citizen Airmen and their nearly 250 active duty counterparts to their limit, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“This is why we are in the Air Force as civil engineers,” said Capt. Prince Chavis, flight commander for the 307th CES. “This is the core; it is the most important thing we do.”
Creating a viable base from scratch required the civil engineers to understand how the different jobs within the career field depend on one another. Pavlic, a four-time Silver Flag veteran, said developing a sense of teamwork helped build knowledge and leadership skills.
“At Silver Flag everything comes together, so our younger Airmen get to see the broad picture and they grow with each learning opportunity,” he said.
Even the mundane portions of the exercise forced Airmen out of their comfort zones. Senior Airman Garrick West, a 307th CES electrical systems craftsman, found himself delivering a briefing to his entire flight as they simulated in-processing at a forward area.
“Public speaking is not a strength for me,” he said while eyeing the group of hot, tired Airmen waiting for operating instructions.
For West and his fellow civil engineers, there would be no rest. More difficult challenges were ahead.
On the second day of the deployment phase, the Florida sun had started to peek through a thick fog. It found the Airmen going about their morning routines in full chemical warfare gear.Out of nowhere, a series of simulated mortar blasts shattered the early morning silence, followed by piercing air raid sirens.
The base was under attack.
The civil engineers responded quickly, donning protective masks and formed defensive perimeters. Their eyes darted from side to side, weapons at the ready, searching for enemy activity. Hours later, the all-clear signal came and the Airmen moved on to the next test, Rapid Airfield Damage Repair, a method of efficiently and quickly fixing a runway hit by enemy munitions.
The civil engineers arrived at the runway to see what the results of the morning attack had brought. Though the mortars were simulated, the runway was pocked with several real craters, some three feet in diameter.
Like so many other parts of Silver Flag, RADR forced the Airmen out of their comfort zone. They found themselves operating heavy equipment that many had learned to drive only the week before.
Still, they adopted the RED HORSE mentality and took full advantage of the available resources. They began to move in a synchronized dance of heavy equipment, shovels and brooms.
“Everyone was busy doing something to get the runway repaired as quickly as possible.” said Senior Airman Jon Jester, 307th CES Engineering Assistant. “A big training advantage was having access to all the equipment not available at home station.”
Concrete dust filled the air, as bulldozers, concrete cutters, asphalt recyclers and tractors moved in an assembly line fashion, leaving smooth concrete where large holes had once been. Red-hatted cadre from the 823rd RHS watched closely, assessing the work.
“This class is performing very well,” said Senior Master Sgt. Ron Oudean, 823rd RHS operations flight chief. “The RADR model is a level playing field because neither active duty nor Reservists have much experience with it.”
The civil engineers worked through the Florida heat, stopping only to drink water and take a few, gritty bites from their Meals, Ready to Eat.In a few hours, all that remained was a smooth, usable runway.
For many here, the quality of instruction and skills gained made Silver Flag a very viable training environment.
“It is a great environment to prepare for real-world deployments,” said Chavis. “I feel our troops are mission ready and capable because of the training they received here.”
The tired civil engineers slowly moved off the completed runway, some glancing over their shoulder at their handiwork. Finally, there could rest, knowing they had been trained, tested and proven themselves worthy.