Civil Engineering REDHORSE (Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron, Engineering) units were trained and equipped to make heavy repairs, upgrade airfields and facilities, and support weapons systems deployment to theaters of operations.
In Southwest Asia, PRIME BEEF teams filled a need for short term construction capabilities. However, the Air Force needed a stable and longer term heavy repair capability. The response was to organize two 400 man (12 officers and 388 airmen) Heavy Repair Squadrons. These units, the 555th (Triple Nickel) and the 554th (Penny Short) Civil Engineering Squadrons were then activated in October 1965. After nine weeks of training at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, the 555th was deployed to Cam Ranh Bay Air Base and the 554th to Phan Rang Air Base in Vietnam.
Upon arrival in Vietnam, REDHORSE squadrons repaired aluminum matting runways, drilled wells to obtain potable water, quarried and crushed stone for roads and runways, repaired mortar damage caused by enemy attacks, constructed and upgraded operational facilities and housing, erected aircraft revetments, and installed aircraft arresting barriers and airfield lighting systems. By 1967, six REDHORSE squadrons had been trained, organized, and deployed toSoutheast Asia - five to South Vietnam and one to Thailand. At the peak of their activity, REDHORSE total strength reached 2,400 military and more than 6,000 (Vietnamese and Thai) nationals.
REDHORSE squadrons also had a combat capability that was frequently used. REDHORSE Combat Defense Teams were often called upon to man defensive positions. In addition to their military duties, many team members were active in the Civic Action Program during their off duty hours. Materials not used or unfit for use on base projects were given to the local population and volunteers frequently worked with Vietnamese nationals to complete various building projects. REDHORSE volunteers helped to rebuild homes damaged by fire, weather, or war and also worked at refugee camps, orphanages, and local schools to improve the quality of life for Vietnamese civilians.
PRIME BEEF (Base Engineer Emergency Force) teams of civil engineering personnel were organized, equipped and trained to respond within hours to worldwide emergencies and to support the Air Force's mission.
The Lebanon Crisis of 1958, the Berlin Crisis of 1961, and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 demonstrated a need for the capability to respond to worldwide emergencies. Aircraft and support personnel were being deployed without providing runways, water supply, electricity, housing, and other facilities necessary to support them. Civil engineering personnel, who could rapidly respond, were needed to accompany aircraft and to provide basing facilities. The Air Force's answer was the PRIME BEEF program.
As the buildup of forces in Southeast Asia began, base civil engineering forces were inundated with construction, operations, and maintenance requirements. Large numbers of USAF strike aircraft were sent to bases where pavement for aircraft parking was at a premium. Aircraft were parked wing tip to wing tip, vulnerable to an accidental explosion or enemy attack. A need for aircraft revetments was dramatically brought home on 15 May 1965 when the explosion of a bomb under the wing of a loaded B-57 aircraft set off a chain reaction of explosions on the parking apron at Bien Hoa Air Base, South Vietnam. Forty aircraft were destroyed, 26 Americans killed, and over 60 wounded.
Three 25-man PRIME BEEF teams were organized from Air Training Command, Strategic Air Command, and Air Defense Command. Teams were deployed to Tan Son Nhut, Bien Hoa and Da Nang Air Bases (all in South Vietnam) to construct aircraft revetments and complete whatever work that was needed. During their 120-day deployments, the teams constructed over 12,000 linear feet of revetments, parking aprons, and several miles of roads. The revetments paid for themselves in saved aircraft in just the first six months.
Soon other specialized teams were deployed to bases in Vietnam and Thailand to perform short-term construction projects. A PRIME BEEF team was sent to Tan Son Nhut to ensure the rapidly growing base had an adequate water supply. PRIME BEEF III sent teams to several other bases to build housing. The teams erected "hootches," framed tents, and constructed over 34,000 square feet of support facilities at six bases in South Vietnam.
PRIME BEEF teams continued to perform critical repair and construction work in Southeast Asia. Between 1965 and 1972, nearly 2,000 PRIME BEEF team members were deployed to Southeast Asia to construct vital petroleum, oil, and lubricant (POL) pipelines and storage facilities; install jet engine exhaust blast deflectors; provide electrical power to buildings; and to erect small buildings.
The PRIME BEEF program proved its value in additional situations. Several hundred personnel were deployed to Korea during Operation Combat Fox, following the seizure of the USS Pueblo in 1968. These teams dug wells, laid airfield matting, erected frame buildings, installed aircraft arresting barriers, sandbagged bunkers, and rehabilitated building and utility systems to facilitate the buildup of American forces at Korean air bases.
As the Vietnam War began to wind down, PRIME BEEF teams remained in great demand by the Air Force. A number of these teams completed civic action projects in the Trust Territories of the Pacific Islands (which became the Federated States of Micronesia). In 1969, firefighter, now a part of the PRIME BEEF program, were sent to locations around the world to provide fire protection and crash/rescue support. Teams also provided civil engineering support for various research projects. For example, they supported a project of the Air Force Weapons Laboratory testing on Eniwetok Atoll in 1972.
In addition to wartime operations, PRIME BEEF teams have responded to many emergency situations. PRIME BEEF members have assisted military and civilian communities in recovery form natural disasters including Hurricane Camille in 1969 and Hurricane Agnes in 1972.
PRIME BEEF has proven to be one of the Air Force's most versatile and productive programs during times of peace and war.