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Rapid and Ready

Airmen in chemical warfare gear patrolling with rifles.

U.S. Airmen patrol their area of operations during Silver Flag at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Feb. 12, 2020. Silver Flag trains civil engineers to perform bare base operation in contested environments. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

Photo of Airman working on equipment.

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Willie Bryant, 307th Civil Engineer Squadron water fuels maintenance system superintendent, fights to open a sink valve at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Feb. 11, 2020. Bryant was setting up tents as part of Silver Flag, an exercise that trains Air Force civil engineers to efficiently set up bare base operations in a forward environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

Photo of two Airmen measuring chemicals.

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Elijah Wood, left, and Airman 1st Class Christopher Lavoe prepare chemicals for water purification during Silver Flag at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Feb. 11, 2020. Wood and Lavoe, both water fuels system maintenance technicians, were ensuring a safe and functional water supply for hundreds of Airmen participating in the bare base operation course. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

Photo of Airmen working in field.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman John Jester, 307th Civil Engineer Squadron engineering assistant, center, sets flags for tent site at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Feb. 11, 2020. Jester was taking part in Silver Flag along with hundreds of other Air Force Reserve and active duty civil engineers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

Close up photo of water dripping from water sample bottle.

A U.S. Airman takes a water sample during Silver Flag at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Feb. 11, 2020. A Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit was used during the course to provide an adequate water supply for hundreds of Air Force civil engineers involved in the course. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

Photo of Airman delivering a briefing to crowd.

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Chase Pavlic, 307th Civil Engineer Squadron water fuels system maintenance craftsman, briefs his fellow students at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Feb. 11, 2020. The briefing was part of the capstone event for Silver Flag, an exercise designed to hone forward operating skills of Air Force civil engineers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

Photo of Airman cleaning cement mixer

Reserve Citizen Airmen of the 307th Civil Engineer Squadron participate in Silver Flag at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., Feb. 11-12, 2020. The exercise is designed to simulate creating an air base in a bare, forward operating environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

Photo of Airman dirty from work

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Armand Zachary, 307th Civil Engineer Squadron water fuels system maintenance journeyman, monitors a water truck during Silver Flag at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Feb. 12, 2020. Zachary was one of dozens of Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 307th Civil Engineer Squadron taking part in the course. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

Photo of Airman cutting open bag of cement.

A U.S. Air Force civil engineer works to repair a runway during Silver Flag at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Feb. 12, 2020. Dusty conditions and simulated combat scenarios dominated the course, which trains Air Force civil engineers in forward operating skills. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

Photo of construction on runway.
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Construction dust sweeps across the Silver Flag runway site at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Feb. 12, 2020. Air Force civil engineers from the United States and Europe took part in Silver Flag. The course teaches civil engineers concepts such a Rapid Airfield Damage Repair, a method of quiickly bringing inoperable runways back into service. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

Photo of Airman moving asphalt.
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U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Eric Angeles, 307th Civil Engineer Squadron power production specialist, removes a piece of asphalt from a recycler at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Feb. 11, 2020. Angeles learned to operate the asphalt recycler as part of a Rapid Airfield Damage Repair exercise, in which civil engineers from all fields use operate heavy equipment to make inoperable runways usable. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

Photo of tractors cleaning runway
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Sweepers clear a runway during a Rapid Airfield Damage Repair exercise at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Feb. 11, 2020. The RADR exercise was part of Silver Flag, a course that trains Air Force civil engineers to operate in bare base operations. Dozens of Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 307th Civil Engineer Squadron took part in the course. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

Photo of Airman shoveling concrete.
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A U.S. Airman shovels construction aggregate during Silver Flag at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Feb. 12, 2020. More than 250 Air Force civil engineers took part in Silver Flag, which includes instruction in Rapid Airfield Damage Repair, a concept designed to quickly put inoperable air strips back into service. The group, comprised of Reservist Citizen Airmen and active-duty, worked together to complete the project. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

Photo of concrete bag being cut open.
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A U.S. Airman rips open a bag of construction aggregate at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Feb. 12, 2020. The Airmen were taking part in a Rapid Airfield Damage Repair exercise as part of Silver Flag. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

Photo of Airman adding water to concrete mix.
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U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Armand Zachary, 307th Civil Engineer Squadron water fuels system maintenance journeyman, helps with runway repair during Silver Flag at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Feb. 12, 2020. It was Zachary’s first time at the exercise, which trains Air Force civil engineers in skills necessary for deployment to forward areas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

Photo of heavy equipment working on runway.
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U.S. Airmen repair a runway during a Rapid Airfield Damage Repair exercise at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Feb. 12, 2020. The training mission was part of Silver Flag, a training exercise hosted by the 823rd Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

Photo of Airman walking among heavy equipment vehicles.
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U.S. Air Force Capt. Prince Chavis, 307th Civil Engineer flight commander, surveys deployment of vehicles during a Rapid Airfield Damage Repair exercise at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Feb. 12, 2020. RADR exercises train Air Force civil engineers from several career fields to operate heavy equipment in order to repair damage done to air strips by hostile munitions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

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.