ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam - A superhero is a fictional person with extraordinary powers, or exceptional skills. Some naturally equate this term to costumed men and women who dedicate their lives to fighting crime and protecting the public.
In stories they live, eat and work among us, making it difficult to differentiate them from others. They often navigate outside the limelight, because their driving factors are not fame and recognition, but simply mission success.
A little Red Pony of the Big RED HORSE
Unbeknownst to some, an elite team from the 554th RED HORSE Squadron at Andersen AFB, Guam, has been training under this premise for months.
Their collective identity is the Assault Assessment and Repair Operations team or AARO.
AARO is a 21-member civil engineering team whose main objectives are to air insert themselves to repair battle-damaged airfields and quickly return them to service. The team is composed of electricians, structures, heavy equipment operators, vehicle maintenance and services personnel.
The team uses helicopters and fixed wing aircraft to rappel and fast-rope to areas that could be restricted due to enemy actions, terrain or geographical location.
“We’re self-sustaining for 72-hours and we carry everything we need to maintain our security and personnel,” said Capt. Jose Figueroa, AARO officer in charge.
The capabilities for aircraft to land, deliver troops and supplies, relies on the availability of a safe runway. This asset allows direct support to the warfighter at a moment’s notice.
AARO is not only trained to for wartime objectives, but humanitarian missions as well.
“The AARO team is the first line toward opening a new base. “We can go in on rotary wing aircraft, bring in all our equipment in via sling-loads using a helicopter as a giant crane and have the ability to open up the base,” said Staff Sgt. Joshua Krahenbuhl, AARO NCO in charge.
Semper Ducimus (always leading)
AARO is not new to the 554th and has been around since 2004, but funding forced training to cease. In May 2016, Lt. Col. Jarrett Gafford, 554th RHS commander, charged unit leadership with revitalizing the ARRO team.
Coordinated by Figueroa, and Master Sgt. Ronald Weymer, AARO superintendent, the program was fully operational within four months.
Training for the fight
“We don’t only need the strongest and fastest Airmen, but also the smartest,” Krahenbuhl said. “A lot of situations we may encounter require outside the box thinking because you may not have a particular piece of equipment that you need, but you still have to figure out how to get the mission done.”
The baseline for each member is a composite score of 90 percent or above on the Air Force and Army physical fitness tests, completion of a 12-mile ruck with 40 pounds in three hours or less, and complete an obstacle course after strenuous circuit training for 15 minutes.
In addition, Airmen are required to step outside normal Air Force training and complete U.S. Army Air Assault School, Fast Rope Insertion Extraction System (FRIES), Special Patrol Infiltration Exfiltration System (SPIES), Combat Life-Saving course and various local training.
“Having Army instructors tack on my air assault wings was a gratifying reward because I can take this training and put it to good use when the time is needed,” said Staff Sgt. Stephen Beasley.
Some members have already been slated to attend the Army’s Pathfinder School, which is arguably one of the most challenging Army courses offered.
Future of the program
Air Force Civil Engineer Center officials are looking for the 554th RHS Airmen to further develop the program and lead other RED HORSE units. While future employment plans for this team is unclear, one thing is certain.
As long as the enemy tries to deny the use of runways and humanitarian needs persist, selfless, dedicated Airmen from AARO stand ready to use their super powers and answer the nation’s call.