Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. Stephen W. Wilson, learned of the groundbreaking initiatives of Airmen in one of the Air Force’s most austere locations, on his recent trip to Nigerien Air Base 201 in Agadez, Niger, Sept. 23.
“I continue to be impressed with the incredible ingenuity and passion of our Airmen,” Wilson said. “Even in the most remote corners of the globe, they find a way to refuse to accept the status quo as good enough. They truly are America’s asymmetric advantage and our most important weapon system.”
Building an air base in the middle of the African Sahel region presents some unique challenges. Airmen from the 819th, 820th and 823rd Expeditionary Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers Squadron built Nigerien AB 201 in a little more than three years with seven rotations of civil engineers and they have adapted and overcome these challenges in innovative ways.
One challenge in particular was the large quantity of water needed for myriad applications including construction, drinking, food prep and hygiene. RED HORSE Airmen met this challenge head-on by developing a 900-foot well in approximately three months, the first U.S. Air Force deep-water well on the continent of Africa.
This endeavor was originally scoped as a contractor-executed project; however, the contractors were unable to drill through the hard-rock formation found at 200 feet. The project was re-tasked to RED HORSE Airmen, who drilled 1,200 feet below the surface to discover aquifers needed for a water supply. The well is capable of producing approximately 30,000 gallons of water per day for the Nigerien AB 201 population, and if needed, can provide drinkable water using a Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit.
Maj. Nate Smith, 823rd ERHS commander, emphasized the vital capability of this unique organization. “RED HORSE is the only water well drilling capability in the (Air Force),” he said. “The Navy Seabees and the Army Engineer Battalions also have water well drilling capabilities, but they are not air transportable like RED HORSE.”
This innovative solution is only one part of the Nigerien AB 201 military construction project, the largest Airmen-led construction project in U.S. Air Force history. Nigerien AB 201 is also the first-ever U.S. Air Force category one airfield to use all solar-powered airfield lighting and navigational aids, and is the first air base since the Vietnam War built from scratch by U.S. Air Force civil engineers. The new runway at Nigerien AB 201 is a joint-use runway that can be used by both U.S. and Nigerien aircraft, allowing for a better response to regional requirements and better protection of Niger’s borders.
The U.S. military, tenants of Nigerien Air Base 201, is there at the request of the Government of Niger. The Airmen are committed to helping their African partners protect their borders in support of national security. The Air Force provides aircraft for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data. This information is used to help African partners secure their borders against violent extremist organizations that disrupt the common desire for a safe, secure and stable Africa.
Wilson met with Airmen in eight countries across U.S. Air Forces Central Command, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and U.S. Air Forces Africa, highlighting innovative solutions to complex problems found in deployed environments.