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Thailand

Headquarters 554th CESHR, located at U-Tapao RTAFB Thailand, dispatched small teams of people on temporary duty assignments out of the necessity for increasing mission support to the U.S military forces relocating from Vietnam bases. There were urgent and immediate direct mission projects at the Thailand bases necessary to activate additional Royal Thailand Air Force Bases (RTAFB) to receive Fighter Wings, their aircraft, and for personnel crew quarters, like those renovated at Takhli RTAFB. There was also a critical need to protect aircraft and ground assets with airfield revetments on existing parking ramps and storage areas.

In later years of the nineteen seventies, a newer type of reventment material would be used such as the B-1, made of lighter gage metal material sections; a type which was faster assembled in panels joined by metal rod pins and filled with select fill dirt. A team of workers from any source could be and were used to erect and put in place the B-1 revetments to be filled later by heavy equipment. The difference between the newer generation revetments verses the Vietnam-era ARMCO type, a 16 foot high section of heavy guage metal type, was that it required labor intense bolt tightening to join sections and panels, and required a crane to top them off with fill dirt. Hand tools and impact wrenches were needed for a quicker production rate. RED HORSE would be tasked to fabricate many miles of this ARMCO revetment in Vietnam and Thailand and later the B-1 and ARMCO types in Korea. This work was labor intense and repetitive. A challenge for the team NCOs for keeping the crews motivated at the expected levels of production. A process of measurement by linear feet errected, filled, and completed by shifts. It was a stressful and arduous tasking for those workers assigned to these teams having to work on a jobsite location that being a hot and dry airfield handling metal sheeting for ten to twelve hours, six days a week.

But let me digress for the time being, to the month and year of July 1972, having concluded an assignment with the 366th CES in Da Nang AB Vietnam. With the war effort winding down in-country and our squadron going contract with Philco Ford I arrived in Thailand, after nearly completing my third tour in Vietnam. Not desiring to return to the states, my next assignment was to Udorn RTAFB with the 432nd CES to complete my last three months in Southeast Asia. I immediately applied for an in- country extension of my tour of duty and too Base Civil Engineering was also going contract there. I applied for a Consecutive Overseas Tour(COT) for the 554th CESHR Squadron.

While being at Udorn RTAFB less than six weeks, I received a letter mailed from my previous duty assignment Danang Air Base, Vietnam. While serving there, I was the noncommissioned officer in charge (NCOIC) of the Bomb Damage Repair Team. Called a Fast Fix Team in part, due to the specialized cement mixture used to make a crater repair. My team had twelve members assigned to it consisting of airmen and noncommissioned officers tasked with the additional duty of repairing all airfields pavement damage due to impacting enemy rockets. With an explosion of a 122 mm rocket hitting the runway and taxiways it caused a deep crater in the thick pavement, and repairs must be made before our fighter aircraft could respond to any attack on the air base. All team members were volunteers from the Structural Branch selected for their willingness to place themselves in harms way by serving in the direct mission support of the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing. A period of risk and personal danger for us while exploding rockets continued to fall onto the flightline, parked aircraft, refueling trucks, and support equipment usually found on a combat air base flightline. That letter I had received stated that a replacement crew of six Korean civilian employees and the one retired American Marine Supervisor were hit by shrapnel while repairing a crater made by a single rocket explosion. A second rocket had also hit the airfield and exploded in the same crater they were repairing. So much for working under combat conditions be that of military or civilian members. The second blast had killed the six Koreans and severely injured the retired Marine supervisor. I shouldn't have thought things were going to be any better at Udorn RTAFB, and so soon by my being there. Seems like the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, the "Top Guns in SEA" that accounted for 20 MIG kills, more kills than any other operational unit in SEA, had made some people in Loas mad and they sent a team of zappers down to Udorn for a little surprise party. Four young boys carrying their backpacks of explosives, and all of them looking for targets, such as the LORAN site, the 555th TFS Operations building, and just any aircraft. They entered the Udorn base by killing one of the Thai military dog handlers and his dog. When the Thai guard was found by our security forces, base personnel were alerted, but before that happened, one of the zappers showed up at the front door of the 555th Operations building, and not recognizing the intruder the Operations Officer on duty, slammed the door shut and locked it before the intruder could enter. By this time everyone was on alert at the base. None of the boys from Loas were successful thanks to the Security Police, base personnel, and night shift workers at the targeted sites. The two that went for the LORAN site were killed, a third whom tried to enter the 555th Operations building got cornered in an aircraft parking area on top of an ARMCO revetment. He decided to go out with a sudden bang and he vaporized himself while still in mid-air by pulling on the detonator cord, also screaming, but heard only briefly before the blast took his life. That completed his day and ruined ours, for now a detail team was needed to pick up the very small pieces of flesh. So much for being out of Vietnam a recognized combat zone. The fourth member of the team was shot once in the upper thigh and was captured. Like it was being in the wrong place and there was no right time or an opportunity to escape when a plan goes wrong from the beginning.

Soon afterwards, my RED HORSE assignment was approved and in October 1972, I reported to U-Tapao RTAFB, Colonel P.G. Reynolds Commander, 554th CESHR . I didn't stay there but for two weeks to process in and getting orders along with eighteen others to go TDY to Takhli RTAFB. I was the supervisor for the renovation of the crew quarters and later for erecting a pre-engineered metal building there. You could usually tell which people were assigned to a pre-engineered metal building erecting team , especially when in the shower, they would all have a five inch wide red burn mark banded on their butt from sitting on top of the very hot metal beams in well over one hundred degree weather every day. Takhli RTAFB was great duty, the people were friendly and the off base night life somewhat relaxing, after much of the hard work was done daily at the base. Some of us didn't stay there for very long before it was decided that we were needed further north . We had just completed the three buildings for the pilots and crew members. My team were all excellent workers and our Thai employees were like family. In fact, I visited with some of them in their homes and was treated well and highly respected. But just as soon as I had gotten settled in, I departed Takhli RTAFB, and assigned to Detachment 5, 554th CESHR at Nakhon Phanom, RTAFB (NKP) an Air Commando Wing base. RED HORSE was there to prepare the base for receiving the beddown of Headquarters, 7th Air Forces, and all other senior Commanders moving out of Vietnam. Once again, we were erecting retro-grade buildings dismantled and removed from Vietnam. Some of these buildings were modularlux, two story prefab dormitories for enlisted personnel, and individual trailers for General Officers or equivalent Navy Admirals all moving out of Saigon RVN. Soon RED HORSE had the base looking like any other base expecting high ranking officials, and it took on a headquarters base appearance. General Abrams, Commander, an Army General, visited our dormitory project jobsite and he shook hands with all of us working on the project. This time we were an all military workforce, as such, our responsibilities included projects supporting the U.S. Embassy, TFX, and supporting American civil service employees. We were able to meet or exceed the required target or operational dates for all the command moves. The city of NKP was located some distance from the base, but a local bus provided transportation back and forth so we were able to visit the city. It was the only city where you could drink a beer and watch the B-52s bombing in action at night over the other side of the Mecong River, separating Thailand and well into Loas.

It was about this time, we received word that a RED HORSE detachment would be sent to Korea. I asked immediately to go with the advance party for the beginning of Detachment 1, 554th CESHR, activated at Osan AB, Korea. I was notified to report back to U-Tapao for reassignment with a twelve man team leaving Thailand within days. Our team departed on April 2, 1973, aboard a KC-135, and we flew to Kadena AB, awaiting transportation to Korea. MSgt Richard Smith was the team NCOIC. We departed Kadena arriving in Korea, and went to work planning for our beddown, and an operational place to work out of also staged within the existing Base Civil Engineering compound. Soon we were joined by Captain Walter Smith, Commander, and MSgt Jerald Campbell, acting as First Sergeant. Soon others would follow us until there were fifty people assigned to the Osan Air Base detachment. The advance team members were well under way with working on the construction of the 51st BCE Squadron compound complex. We worked out of a really primitive plywood building using it for both a command center and an orderly room. Korea was a new country with a new potential, and the making of new friends. For some of us it would also become the longest tour of duty in our long military careers. Our first task was providing for our permanent quarters, then a newer Headquarters and Administrative building, after that our own shops building. Progress was slow but it kept our workforce employed. In May 1973, we had a change of command and Captain James L. Bannwart, Commander, replaced Captain Walter Smith. The advance party had planned for, and had made it possible for the smooth transition from a Headquarters base in Thailand, to a newer major construction effort now within Korea. We were assigned as permanent party to Detachment 1, 554th CESHR. Our projects used mostly existing base and retro-grade assets removed from Vietnam and Thailand, and shipped to Korea. The South-east Asia war was beginning to come slowly to an end, and Detachmnt 1, was to prepare for the relocation of our Headquarters from U-Tapao in mid- summer 1975. Until then alot of work had to be accomplished.

The years 1973,1974 and with my return in1975, while assigned to the squadron, I witnessed many changes at Osan AB. We were still located within the BCE Compound, but the intention was to have a newer BCE Compound Complex and that was now being constructed, and that effort was the major project tasking, during this period. As stated our enlisted dormitory, located on the flightline, had three attached buildings and it was ideal for a RED HORSE dormitory. We even had a lounge already within the buildings. Beginning with all open bays, we constructed individual rooms for the Senior NCOs and kept the open areas for all others. More projects were being scheduled, like erecting a small modular, single floor plan, prefab unit taken from a stockpile of buildings shipped as retro-grade assets earlier to Korea. Our people began to finish a TMO building on the flightline, and fencing in our compound. It was then that we began to take notice, after a BCE Korean Engineer pointed it out to us, that in Korea, there was such a thing as frost heave, and that both footings and foundations had to be placed below the minimum of thirty two inches, and also the concrete pads placed on a sand barrier. This requirement had not been a problem in Vietnam, or Thailand. A lesson learned, as for now we were constructing without blueprints. We consulted even more with the base engineers since we had no design section of our own. Some Senior NCOs had never ever constructed anything in a cold climate. About this time, a need for our own Korean overhires was becoming evident. Project approvals were increasing and more of our heavy equipment was arriving from Thailand, and with more people arriving more projects could be supported. We interviewed for all positions and it seemed that a majority whom applied were from the previous 557th RED HORSE Squadron. Workers whom had been hired by the 557th, while assigned to Korea in the late sixties. The decision to hire mostly past employees was not the purpose of the interview, but a smartone never-the-less. Since I was the Structural Superintendent, I did most of the first hiring for the detachment. All employees as it would turn out were outstanding people. They mostly carried us throught our first winter months, when construction would go much slower. Their ideas were all considered and appreciated and progress on projects continued throughout this period.

It was again about this time, We were beginning to receive projects which were all planned for the use of pre-engineered metal buildings (retro-grade assets) stored in one big outdoor storage area and full of individual metal building components, and wall/roofing panels. Not one of us knew which items matched to what building, or of what size was the building, for that matter. This is where our Korean employees were the most helpful. The task of sorting out, and selecting the correct columns, roof trusses, wind bracing, base plate and sidding, was at least difficult if not almost impossible, due to the co-mingled piles of metal parts. There were also two different types, PASCO and Butler buildings. MSgt Randall Toye was tasked to select and identify the correct building components, and to erect a building using both a military and Korean crew. It was one of the jobs, he had accomplished in Thailand, so the TMO project mentioned earlier, was the first project using retro-grade assets worked on in Korea. Many such steel retro-grade projects would then follow. Some were as big in size as a 100'x200' foot building erected in the BCE compound complex project. We more than ever now needed our own individual shops to work out of; so it was in the BCE outdoor storage yard, that we sited a pad to accomodate such a building. On May 9, 1973, we decided that a military team of fifteen NCOs would be sent TDY to an Army Support Command, Far East District Engineer Compound, Seoul, Korea, to dismantle an Army building, at their post to become our shops building, joining it with a new wooden structure, to serve as the Carpenter Shop. All of our other shops would be located within the retro-grade Army building. The Army Engineers thought this would take us three days, for the building to be taken down, but on a bet, we were out of there on the same day. Arriving on-site at 08:00 hours and departing at 17:00 hours, having dismanantled, packaged up both the metal and insulation items, loaded, cleaned up the site, and were as soon out and on our way back to Osan. We drove by their office to let them know that we had finished the job we had promised. Since they had not visited the site all day, they were not expecting our Air Force team, would or could, complete the job as we had reported. They just didn't know of our determination to succeed as demonstrated by all RED HORSE people whom did so throughout Vietnam and Thailand, and would do it now within Korea. Many Senior Officials and Commanders would learn this, and even today, they continue to be amazed by the speedy completion of major projects and achievements they thought to be impossible at the time. Even using todays standards, major projects are still being accomplished throughout the world and supported by the Department of Defense even more today than back then. This 1950s era Army pre-engineered metal building would become our Detachments first combined shops building. We were finally getting a work place of our own. This gave us a building to report to instead of assembling in the open yard. Captain Bannwart was great to work for and he allowed the Senior NCOs to direct the workforce in accomplishing their daily duties. He also stayed well informed of all that was going on with his end-of-day meetings, and we knew when it was time to ask for his guidance, for he also possessed much knowledge about construction and was highly capable of talking us through the entire projects. Rapid progress was being accomplished throughout the compound. It was about this time that an Army driver lost control of his truck and destroyed the Osan Main Gate. There was a sudden rush for RED HORSE to construct the replacement main gate building, but this too would not delay any other concurrent projects already under construction. We were organized and had completed the RED HORSE dormitory renovation, our Detachment Headquarters building, TMO building, and started a RED HORSE storage building, located within our own compound next to the shops. We needed much more space within the compound, and so began to fence in the compound since we were by then receiving, heavy trucks, 6-Pak's, jeeps, and other heavy equipment. It was easy to obtain our batch concrete needs in Korea so construction was put on a fast tract with the contractor delivering concrete directly to the job sites. Our projects were many and they began to be spread out throughout the base keeping a fifty member assigned military and twenty five Korean workforce very busy. With such a schedule to mantain, there also were the need for greater management, and scheduling of the workforce. The BCE Compound Complex required extensive site re-working to correct deficiencies, such as providing drainage ditches for storm water run-off, leveling and filling in of low areas, and the construction of an extensive concrete reinforced retaining wall necessary in heights ranging from three feet to a maximum of twelve feet high in some places, to reinforce an existing earthen sloping hill for the new BCE shops building concrete pad. A large layout using two 50'x100' feet metal buildings to form the entire combined shops structure. Next to the shops building was sited a 50'x100' supply building. We also began a 50'x100' War Readiness Materials (WRM) warehouse, and a new BCE Administrative building placed on the same site of our first Detachment Headquarters(the old plywood shed.) Our work force remained at the same level of manning, but our projects did increase.

Osan Air Base was growing and the needs were great. In early 1974, the Detachment had a change of command and finally a First Sergeant, Captain Horst Haeusser, Commander, and MSgt Jack Lay, First Sergeant, and an operational orderly room finally to process our paperwork. In late October 1973, some of us applied for tour extensions and most were approved by PACAF. Other RED HORSE personnel were now arriving from Thailand and some sent directly to Korea from the normal rotational replacements. We had a NCOIC, soon as SMsgt Caldwell was assigned. His expertise in the heating field allowed for the local development of several methods of heating concrete, all masonry products used on projects even throughout the winter months November through March, by utilizing oil fired furnaces, H-1 aircraft portable heaters, and pvc plastic sheeting material used as tenting. By using these methods, we were now capable of outside weather construction continuing twelve months of the year instead of eight months of the normal ideal weather. Captain Haeusser also was a great asset to the Detachment, as Commander, he helped us by keeping the Senior NCO management team working together, and he also exercised full command oversite and coordination, to ensure greater productivity, and for preventing any delays on the many projects under way at the time of his arrival. He was also a great supporter of his NCOs, airmen, and the Korean workforce. By recognizing individual achievements, from both the enlisted personnel and assigned civilians, he promoted loyalty, and earned our respect. Like the previous Commander, he was an easy going officer, but firm and fair whom all respected for his leadership and support.

The BCE Compound Complex was now well advanced and our RED HORSE compound was also nearing a completion. We all had adequate housing, a lounge of our own, and a Korean village nearby to visit. Most of our original advance party grouping had rotated back to the states and we were receiving some TDY visits from Thailand. Our Headquarters in U-Tapao sent CMSgt Ben Smith and SMSgt Fred Shropshire to informed us that soon the Headquarters would be relocated to Osan AB, sometimes in the year of 1975. Colonel P. G. Reynolds had rotated out in 1973, and Colonel Bolton was now the Commander of RED HORSE. Attempts to extend my tour of duty in Korea with the Detachment, after October 1974 was not successful, but I would return in October 1975. This time as a new SMSgt having been promoted in grade, and ready to continue as the Structural Superintendent, but working this time out of the old 800 area buildings, that once had been the old BCE shops area near the flightline. The move into the new 51st BCE complex had been completed and the older BCE buildings were our next Headquarters. No longer a Detachment, for the move out of Thailand was complete, however, teams were still located there dismantling buildings both in Vietnam and Thailand, some of them that we had just erected in 1973, shipping them back to Korea. Colonel Joe G. Winslow , Commander, and SMSgt Shropshire, First Sergeant. The project wrap up and phase down of RED HORSE activities in Thailand was complete. The Sept-Oct 1975 class change was complete with Osan as Headquarters and Kunsan then becoming Detachment 1, 554th CESHR. On January 5, 1976, on that date Air Force orders, established 554th Headquarters at Osan AB, Korea and the beginning of a major renovation project of the 800 area compound, making it the new RED HORSE Compound complex that is still in use today. We also moved into a new dormitory that year and Colonel Donald R. Reaves, Commander, would replace Colonel Winslow in October 1976.