RED HORSE Squadron runs for the border

PORT CLINTON Compared with Afghanistan and Iraq, Nogales, Ariz., is almost a vacation for members of the 200
Cory Frolik
May 24, 2010

PORT CLINTON

Compared with Afghanistan and Iraq, Nogales, Ariz., is almost a vacation for members of the 200th RED HORSE Squadron.

Forty members of the 200th RED HORSE -- 20 each from Camp Perry and Mansfield -- were in southern Arizona this week helping build roads and run electrical lines to better secure the U.S. border.

The dangers in Nogales pale in comparison to those the squadron previously experienced in the Middle East.

"The worst we have to worry about (in Arizona) is a rock," said Col. Michael Skomrock, commander of the 200th RED HORSE. "They throw rocks across the fence there just to annoy us."

The 200th RED HORSE is the go-to unit when construction projects need to be built posthaste.

"We are a heavy construction group," Skomrock said. "We can build whatever needs built. Stuff you can't get a contractor quick enough for, or in zones where you can't get contractors at all."

Hired by the U.S. Border Patrol, the 200th RED HORSE helped curb illegal immigration and drug trafficking through electrical repair and paving of roads.

Arriving in early April, members of the unit worked in two-week rotations in Yuma, Ariz., Nogales and the surrounding areas. They return home this weekend.

"They have cameras everywhere," Skomrock said. They see somebody come over, they respond to it in their jeeps. They had trails they used to travel on, and they could go 15-20 mph. (With the new roads) they can go about 50 mph now."

The fences and electrical work are important because it is the first defense against illegal entry into the U.S., Skomrock said.

In the cities, the fences are built generally 15-20 feet high so they cannot be breached. In other areas it's too hot and dry for pedestrian traffic, but an all-terrain vehicle can travel out that far. That is why the 200th has helped weld rails together to create vehicle barriers. About 200 members of the unit were in Arizona last year building fences.

The electrical work was needed to improve lighting.

"Some of the lights are providing more light for the cameras so they can see at night," said Major Mike Hrynciw, operations officer with the 200th RED HORSE.

The preliminary numbers show the unit has installed about 700 feet of guardrail, 2,500 cubic yards of fill, 34,000 feet of primary electrical lines and 32,000 feet of secondary electrical lines. They also helped put up about 205 light poles.

Members of the 200th RED HORSE appeared in photographs in the national news this week after the U.S. Supreme Court denied environmentalists' legal challenge of the border-fence project.

In 2005, Congress gave Homeland Security a green light to "waive all legal requirements" to quicken the pace at which the fence was being built. The Sierra Club and others sued, claiming such a waiver violated the Constitution.

The Supreme Court shot down that case Monday, and the fence project continues full-speed ahead.

Reached by phone in Nogales, Hrynciw said the project kills two birds with one stone: It improves homeland security while simultaneously providing stateside training to squadron members, an annual summer requisite.

Very similar construction projects the Air National Guard squadron undertook in 2002 and 2005 were in the far unfriendlier territories of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Stones are nothing compared to artillery, but Nogales still has its hardships: It was 114 degrees Monday when unit members were out working. The team of 40 are working on their farmer's tans, Hrynciw said.