819th RED HORSE airmen stuck overseas due to COVID-19 travel restrictions

Updated April 8 to correct that other RED HORSE airmen had not yet returned to Montana.

Twenty-eight members of the 819th RED HORSE Squadron at Malmstrom Air Force Base were expected to return home on March 26, but did not due to the Pentagon’s stop movement order due to COVID-19.

They remain overseas and will be there at least until May 24, when the current stop movement order is set to expire.

More than 150 members of 819th RED HORSE deployed in October to parts of Africa and the Middle East, according to Malmstrom public affairs.

Col. Jennifer Reeves, 341st Missile Wing commander, said during a virtual town hall last week that “we know you were so excited” about them coming home after deployment.

“I’m sure it feels like the rug just got pulled out right from under ya,” Reeves said.

To the affected families, she said, “you gotta hang on,” and asked the rest of the Malmstrom community to support those families.

In November, Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. Stephen W. Wilson visited RED HORSE troops in Niger, where members of three different squadrons, including the 819th, were building an air base.

Members of various RED HORSE squadrons built Nigerien Air Base 201 in the African Sahel region in about three years with seven rotations of squadrons, according to an Air Force public affairs story.

One of their challenges was water supply, so RED HORSE airmen developed a 900-foot well, the first U.S. Air Force deep-water well on the African continent, according to the Air Force.

It was initially a contracted project, but the contractors couldn’t drill through the hard-rock formation found at 200 feet, so it was tasked to RED HORSE units, who drilled 1,200 feet below the surface and found aquifers needed for a water supply, according to the Air Force story. The well is capable of producing approximately 30,000 gallons of water per day for the Nigerien AB 201 population and can provide drinkable water using a reverse osmosis water purification unit, according to the Air Force.

According to the Air Force, RED HORSE is the only water drilling capability in the Air Force. The Navy and Army engineering units have the capability, but aren’t air transportable, as RED HORSE is.

“This innovative solution is only one part of the Nigerien AB 201 military construction project, the largest Airmen-led construction project in U.S. Air Force history. Nigerien AB 201 is also the first-ever U.S. Air Force category one airfield to use all solar-powered airfield lighting and navigational aids, and is the first air base since the Vietnam War built from scratch by U.S. Air Force civil engineers. The new runway at Nigerien AB 201 is a joint-use runway that can be used by both U.S. and Nigerien aircraft, allowing for a better response to regional requirements and better protection of Niger’s borders,” according to the Air Force.