Monday, March 05, 2012

ANG combat comm squadron redesignated civil engineering unit

ST. CROIX, U.S. Virgin Islands (AFNS) -- A combat communications squadron that began the Air National Guard's presence in the U.S. Virgin Islands more than 32 years ago has transformed itself once again during a ceremony March 3.

The 285th Combat Communications Squadron, activated in 1980 to provide communications support to the U.S. Virgin Islands, was redesignated as the 285th Civil Engineering Squadron during a ceremony at the Virgin Islands Air National Guard facility on St. Croix.

According to the squadron's commander, Capt. John Hult, the unit was originally a victim of a reduction in the number of combat communications units within the Air Force Space Command. "The 285th was originally one of those units to be cut ... but leadership ... was able to secure the civil engineering mission for the Virgin Islands Air National Guard."

This new mission, according to Hult, will allow the squadron to develop, deploy and sustain expeditionary engineers to "protect, preserve and improve facilities and infrastructure." "This fills an Air National Guard and federal need for a more robust civil engineering community and will be more in line to (meet) territorial needs and requirements for hometown support," said Hult.

"The 285th (Civil) Engineering Squadron will turn on the lights when there are none," said Col. Jeffrey Buckley, the Virgin Islands Air National Guard chief of staff. To keep the unit relevant, Buckley said that leadership determined that a Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force, or Prime BEEF, mission was needed. "They'll make sure there is running water when called upon. They'll build shelter where needed, and they'll fix roads and runways when required. This is Prime Beef."

According to Hult, the unit has entered a reclassification process in which Airmen will receive new mission requirements, new equipment will be issued and the cross-training into various engineer career fields will begin. "The 285th CES will be in a two-year conversion window as directed by the National Guard Bureau," said Hult. "After two years, the unit must be ready to go to war, and is open for all Air National Guard and Air Force inspection cycles."

The unit began as a flight in 1980 and created the first Air National Guard presence in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The flight was upgraded to a squadron in 1996 and made a name for itself following the devastation of Hurricane Hugo to the region in 1989, when the unit and its installation became the heart of recovery operations for St. Croix.

Over the years, the unit has been involved in several contingency operations, to include Joint Endeavor, Uphold Democracy, Joint Forge, and both Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. They earned the Air Force Outstanding Unit award on four occasions: In 1989, 1990, 1991 and for the period of September 1995 to August 1997.