Air Force civil engineering contingency training has progressed through several stages since 1947. During the Korean War, the Aviation Engineer Force trained combat engineers organized as Aviation Engineer battalions. This unit was charged with providing centralized control over aviation engineer battalions operating and training in the continental United States to assure a suitable level of readiness to perform their overseas mission of airfield construction and repair. After a successful period of training management, the Aviation Engineer Force was phased out by 1956.Contingency training during the Vietnam War was accomplished at the home station for Prime BEEF team members. With the establishment of the Civil Engineering Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, the forerunner of the present Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency (AFCESA), limited contingency training was conducted at Wright-Patterson and nearby Camp Perry, Ohio. One of the considerations for the move of the Civil Engineering Center to Tyndall AFB, Florida, in 1972 was the availability of space for contingency training. Training for both Prime BEEF and RED HORSE personnel was begun on the east end of Tyndall AFB, coincidentally, at almost the exact location of the current Silver Flag Exercise Site. The curriculum included work party security, specialized construction activities, and contingency equipment operations.
In 1978, Prime BEEF implemented a new training concept that expanded the curriculum to provide CONUS forces with hands-on exposure to contingency repair procedures. The five-day curriculum included Prime BEEF Orientation, Harvest Eagle Force Beddown, Harvest Eagle Equipment Familiarization, Bomb Damage Repair, Explosive Ordnance Reconnaissance, Chemical Warfare, and Rapid Runway Repair. The following year, contingency training moved to Field 4, Eglin AFB, Florida, because of a requirement for runway cratering under the new curriculum. (Limited work party security and demolition training continued at Tyndall for a few years.) The site became Operating Location E of the Air Force Engineering and Services Center (AFESC) until 1985 when it became Detachment 2, AFESC. The first class attended training at Eglin in April 1979. The 20-person cadre taught 45 classes (approximately 4,200 students) during the site’s first 12 months of operation. However, a unit’s training cycle of 76 months between visits to the site was unacceptable and led to an expansion of the site and cadre to double the training load.
The facilities, curriculum and number of classes greatly expanded during the 1980s. New construction, completed by the 823rd RED HORSE Squadron and the cadre, added a new administrative building, latrines, and a septic system. The new schedule of 77 classes per year began on 3 January 1981 and allowed approximately 7,000 students to complete training annually. The next year another new schedule was initiated that brought 11,000 students to the site for training. At this point the cadre had grown to 57 personnel.
In October 1985, a major curriculum change incorporated other specialties–disaster preparedness, explosive ordnance disposal, fire fighting, services (Prime RIBS, Readiness in Base Services), and commissary specialties (Prime FARE, Food and Readiness) in an integrated Base Recovery After Attack.
(BRAAT) scenario. This focused the training on integrating individual functional areas for a coordinated base recovery effort in a realistic wartime environment. With these changes, an increase of 20 instructors and about 40 vehicles, and two classroom buildings were added to the site. The new program trained a total of 10,640 students annually (7,904 Primer BEEF, 380 each explosive ordnance disposal and disaster preparedness, and 1,976 Prime RIBS and Prime FARE).
The training site hosted the first Readiness Challenge competition in June 1986. Eleven teams competed in seven different civil engineer events. The Air Force Logistics Command team from Wright-Patterson AFB won the overall competition. Since that small beginning, Readiness Challenge has become the Air Force’s premier combat support contingency skills competition. By 1997, Readiness Challenge incorporated civil engineering (now including EOD and disaster preparedness), services, public affairs, and chaplain service events. It also became an international competition in 1994 when Canada sent a team and in 1997, when the United Kingdom participated.
In 1987, the first class of Officer Field Education was held at the site, renamed the Air Base Combat Support Training Complex. Officer Field Education was the final week of Air Force Institute of Technology’s Air Base Combat Engineering course and offered young officers the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with some of the equipment and procedures used to accomplish their wartime mission.
The Air Base Combat Support Training Complex was outgrowing its home at Eglin. During discussions with Eglin officials in 1978 to bed down training operations at Eglin, AFESC officials agreed to keep the facilities temporary and at a minimum. The site was partially within the Accident Potential Zone II and the munitions test safety footprint of the base. In 1987, as a result of growing safety concerns and mission changes at the host base, Eglin officials decided it was time to move the combat support training site somewhere else. The location chosen was at the eastern portion of Tyndall. Construction on the new site began in November 1989 and continued until its official opening on 3 August 1993. The final event held at the Eglin site was Readiness Challenge IV. Between 1979 and 1993, nearly 150,000 personnel were trained at the Eglin training site.
Along with the physical move from Eglin to Tyndall, an organizational change occurred. In 1991, Gen. Merrill A. McPeak, Air Force Chief of Staff, told Col. Marshall W. Nay, the AFESC commander, that training was the major commands’ responsibility and not a field operating agency’s. McPeak agreed that the training site should be given to Tactical Air Command. Therefore, coincident with the move from Eglin to Tyndall, Detachment 2, AFESC, became Detachment 1, 823rd RED HORSE Squadron. This was a return to the tradition of the 560th RED HORSE Squadron that trained RED HORSE replacement personnel at Eglin from 1966 to 1970. The new location was renamed the Silver Flag Exercise Site.
The end of the Cold War, the Gulf War experience, and changing technologies brought about an important change in the mission of the site. The new overall training plan for civil engineering called for a continued emphasis on home-station training, improved contingency training at all levels and implementation of the new Silver Flag program. The Silver Flag program featured specialty crew-size exercises including task certification for personnel filling critical positions on Prime BEEF and RIBS teams. Also, the emphasis shifted from BRAAT activities to a balanced recovery/beddown approach in the curriculum. The new program concentrated on key contingency equipment and assets not available at technical training schools or home station. The Silver Flag program ensures that each Prime BEEF team will have a core of highly trained and capable individuals with the most current readiness training on mobile basing assets and base recovery after attack equipment.
Today, the Silver Flag Exercise Site at Tyndall AFB offers quality training and realistic exercises on a wide range of critical assets and equipment to ensure civil engineers and services personnel will continue to provide agile combat support to the Air Force of the 21st century.