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Gone but not forgotten: Last 307 RHS mission benefits Autistic children

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jeff Walston
  • 307th RED HORSE
When the 307th RED HORSE shuts and locks the doors on Aug. 31, it will leave Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana with a living legacy of construction projects, both military and humanitarian, around the world for thousands to remember what it was.

After being notified the unit would be inactivated, those assigned to the 307th have scrambled to find new positions, and in some cases, new homes. Some members transferred to other RED HORSE units, while others rolled over to the 307th Civil Engineer Squadron at Barksdale. Many chose to retrain and take positions across the country, while a few have chosen to leave the Air Force Reserve altogether.

As all this uncertainty takes place, there is one thing that remains constant: the mission still has to be accomplished. Even in their final hours, unit members are stepping up to the plate for the Air Force Reserve team. They have taken on and accomplished several training projects before the unit’s inactivation ceremony scheduled for Aug. 2.

Their final project wrapped up when the last of three rotations of 307 RHS Airmen returned from San Marcus, California, Aug. 11. Each group spent two weeks assisting on a construction project for Training, Education, Research and Innovation Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to the education and assistance for children/adults with Autism and other special needs.

The Barksdale Airmen joined those from other RED HORSE units in constructing a perimeter wall around the future 20-acre “Campus of Life,” the organization’s largest campaign to date, which started with “a vision of a college-like campus for individuals with special needs.” The campus will include vocational certification programs, a culinary school, 6.5 acres of organic farming, and a junior Olympic-sized swimming pool. A therapeutic equestrian center has already been constructed and is already in full use on the property.

The TERI project is one of many civil-military Innovative Readiness Training programs which are conducted within the U.S., its territories and possessions by our military, especially our Guard and Reserve forces.

“The IRT Program gives our personnel real-world, hands-on-training, and at the end of the day it gives them a sense of pride because they have something to show for it. With this [particular] project, they get a little more precision work, especially our equipment operators. Instead of just moving dirt, a lot of this stuff is very precise,” said Chief Master Sgt. Cindi Schlitz, 931st Civil Engineer Squadron. “It gives them some great training time, and it helps hone their skills and allows some of our people the opportunity to teach.”

The Department of Defense supports these programs because they provide realistic training, build individual and unit moral, and supply a “double bang” for military resources thus serving as a smart use of tax payer dollars.

As project manager, Schlitz understands the benefit of training her Airmen and the process it takes to get these types of projects accomplished, she said. She started her first IRT project in 1998 as a young staff sergeant working on her “little piece of the puzzle.” She is scheduled to spend 179 days at the TERI site overseeing the wall building project from beginning to end.

“When it comes to the IRT projects, applicants have to go through a pretty extensive screening, and the package they have to submit is pretty intensive,” said Schlitz. “The Office of Secretary of Defense racks and stacks them, as to which ones are going to be the best hands-on-training for military personnel needs.”

“All in all, on the Air Force side of it, I think it helps also with retention, knowing that these kind of projects are available, and that we get to get to come out and be a part of the community, part of a big project and keeps them going instead of having to do computer-based training every weekend, and they actually get some hands-on-training,” she said.

The TERI deployment was the first IRT project for most of the 307 RHS Airmen.

When Tech. Sgt. Tommy Smith, 307 RHS electrical systems craftsman, arrived on site of the future Campus of Life, he could see there was a retaining wall being constructed. There wasn’t much more on that side of the property.

“Before the rotation, we were told we would be helping underprivileged kids with autism. But, when I got there, I just saw a wall,” Smith said. “We did our jobs. We brought elevation up to level, laid block and rebar, and we made sure the retaining wall around the compound would was straight. It was a wall, like any other wall.”

But, enough time on any construction site can change the perspective of those involved in the project.

“After I left, after we had met some of the kids who were at the camp, it wasn’t just a wall anymore. I felt a sense of doing a good deed for the children,” he said.

To date, Airmen from the 254th RED HORSE, Andersen AFB, Guam, 307th RED HORSE, 555th RED HORSE, Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, 567th RED HORSE, Seymour-Johnson AFB, North Carolina, and the 583rd RED HORSE, Beale Air Force Base, California, and other units have volunteered to work on the project.

According to Schlitz, most of the personnel involved on the project were on annual tour status, where funding is already allocated. So it’s not any over and above.

“Our members are always required to do 15 days of AT, so instead of doing it on something where there is no end product, we’re able to bring them out here and get that training,” Schlitz continued. “So, it’s not extra money that tax payers are paying, its money that is already funded. This is just a different location.”

Airmen assigned to the 307th RHS have traveled the world, leaving their mark. They have deployed to Japan, Korea, Wake Island, Tajikistan, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Djibouti, Haiti, Belize, Azores, Italy, El Salvador, Panama, Germany, Antigua, Dominican Republic, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Jamaica, Alberta, Canada, Guam, Honduras, Antigua and the West Indies. In 2013, members of the 307th RHS deployed to Southwest Asia in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM and ENDURING FREEDOM. During the rotation, which spanned seven countries, they worked on or completed 40 projects valued at $8.1 million.

No matter where in the world they are deployed, RED HORSE Airmen truly enjoy returning home to projects that benefit those less fortunate or in need.