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Engineers on the move; 1st ECEG conducts combat-capable construction

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Joshua Horton
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Establishing, sustaining and restoring base infrastructure — this is the mission of Air Force civil engineers. When it comes to expanding the presence in hostile environments, however, the unique purpose of the 1st Expeditionary Civil Engineer Group brings their unique capability to the fight.

“When you know you’ve worked on some sort of construction project and then you start to see articles about how ‘a weapons system is now flying combat missions,’” said Lt. Col. Tracy Beattie, commander of the 577th Expeditionary Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force Squadron, known as the Prime BEEF.

“You know that the only reason they are there is because we’ve built those shelters, we’ve put that matting down, and we got those tents up for them ready to go. We did all that on the timeline they needed.

“That’s the most fulfilling part,” Beattie continued. “Within the civil engineer career field, it is probably the most you will actively effect combat airpower.”

The Airmen of the 1st ECEG’s 577th Expeditionary Prime BEEF Squadron and 557th Expeditionary Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron, known as REDHORSE, actively increase airpower by performing the jobs in the places that other civil engineers can’t.

The 1st ECEG, based out of Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, conducts many of the same functions as a traditional civil engineer unit including ventilation and air conditioning, electrical, power pro, structures, heavy equipment, plumbers, engineering assistants and production control. According to Beattie, what separates them is their “outside-the-wire, over-the-horizon capability.”

Training requirements members of the 1st ECEG must complete are the month-long combat skills training course, which outfits Airmen with the knowledge, skills and proficiency to survive in hostile environments — and the evasion and conduct after capture course, teaching Airmen how to respond to isolation and capture.

“That special training really allows us to go anywhere in the area of operations,” Beattie said. “We have the training to provide support if necessary when outside the wire or if a (Forward Operating Base) is overrun. If we do get taken, we know how to resist and act.”

These Airmen are charged with a distinctive responsibility because of the expense and difficulty of hiring contractors and the inability of traditional civil engineer units to travel to high-risk environments

“We’re essential to CENTCOM’s mission because without us, it may take much longer and may be much more expensive to find a contractor who’s willing to build in the tighter spots and more dangerous areas,” said Tech. Sgt. Joshua Plummer, a 577th Prime BEEF water and fuels system maintenance craftsman.

In addition to being a more cost-effective alternative to contractors, the 1st ECEG is capable of shifting manning to reduce expenses, save time and increase productivity.

“Material acquisition can take a long time,” Beattie said “So when you’re waiting on items to get here, it costs more money to have contractors mobilize back and forth. With us being here, we actually shift our manning as needed to work on various projects if we’re waiting on materials.”

The two components of the 1st ECEG, the Prime BEEF and REDHORSE, provide different functions based on mission needs. The REDHORSE is a self-sufficient civil engineer response force designed to support contingency and special operations with heavy construction. The Prime BEEF offers a highly-mobile and adaptable emergency response capability providing repairs and light construction.

Though they touch every country within the AOR, the 1st ECEG often works with their CE components at their headquarters here.

“We are AFCENT’s construction team outside the wire, but we are also tenants on Al Udeid,” Beattie said. “We work very well together with the CE folks here. When they need more manning, we send extra bodies.”

According to Plummer, the 1st ECEG’s unique mission is also a fulfilling one.

“To me, the most rewarding part is being able to see the customer enjoy it right away,” Plummer said. “With the 577th, you get to give somebody something they didn’t have. If somebody was sleeping in a tent and you construct a building with air conditioning, you’re handing them a better life. To me, seeing that with my own eyes is satisfying.”