The construction capability of Navy civilian contractors and the Army Corps of Engineers in Southeast Asia (SEA) could not keep pace with facility needs of urgent arriving combat air units. Air Force aircraft were overcrowded on existing airfields and lacked adequate support and maintenance facilities. Compensating for this limited SEA heavy construction capability, the Air Force's Tactical Air Command (TAC) undertook effort to organize, train, equip, and prepare two heavy equipment construction squadrons for deployment to Vietnam. These squadrons were called RED HORSE, an acronym for Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron, Engineer. The squadrons were organized as mobile, self-contained units of 400 men with skill ranges, tools and construction equipment to provide combat engineering support to air tactical units. To ensure unit self-sufficiency, each squadron included vehicle and equipment maintenance, medical, food service, and supply personnel.
The 554th Civil Engineering Squadron (RED HORSE) arrived at Phan Rang in early February 1966 and began work on runway construction and repair. Its sister squadron the 555th arrived at Cam Ranh Bay later that month to support construction there. The two squadrons were designed to supplement the capabilities of the Army and Navy construction entities; however, SEA airfield and base needs soon dictated that RED HORSE would expand its capabilities beyond this mission limitation. The RED HORSE soon found itself in all facets of air base facilities construction and development.
The 554th RED HORSE Squadron met the challenge of building and constructing a 1 million square foot concrete parking-ramp at Phan Rang completed in 1967. This was the largest aircraft parking-ramp construction project in history. The ramp size record would not be broken until 35 years later when another RED HORSE unit constructed a 1,044,525 square foot parking ramp at an air base supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
Red Horse cantonment area and compound at the base of the hill where the Officers Club (indicated by 2 in photo) was located. Photo was taken probably late 1966/early 1967. Note the ever-expanding base development of streets and roads as well as permanent facilities. (Photo courtesy of Don Averett, USAF, 554th Red Horse Squadron.