Contingency deployments to Vietnam and Southeast Asia dominated Air Force civil engineering activities from 1960-1974. Throughout the period, Cold War tensions remained high between the United States and Communist nations, most notably the U.S.S.R. and China. Several incidents led to military alerts that strained international relations. These events included the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the U.S. involvement in the Republic of Vietnam between 1961 and 1973, and heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula in 1968.
While Air Force civil engineers supported the U.S. military response to all of these events, the Vietnam conflict necessitated a particularly long-term and high profile commitment on the part of Air Force civil engineers. The involvement of Air Force civil engineers in Southeast Asia greatly influenced the organization, impacted individual personnel, and shaped civil engineering activities.
Many career Air Force civil engineering personnel, who had joined the Service during World War II, served in leadership roles during the Vietnam Conflict. For the younger generation of Air Force personnel, the Vietnam conflict became their war. Air Force leaders of the 1980s and early 1990s forged their careers supporting the Air Force mission in Southeast Asia. The Air Force Civil Engineering motto “Can Do—Will Do” clearly was internalized during the Vietnam conflict.
Ongoing deployments to the Republic of Vietnam and other areas in Southeast Asia spurred innovation at all levels of the Air Force civil engineering organization. Throughout the period, Air Force civil engineers functioned in dual roles. Engineers served as engineer-managers for a variety of diverse projects and maintained the hands-on capabilities necessary to support the Air Force mission at bases in the United States and overseas. Innovations were introduced during the period in the operation of the permanent Air Force bases, in personnel management, in design and construction, and in contingency preparedness and planning. New challenges for the Air Force and civil engineers required flexible and dynamic responses.
The engineering lexicon expanded to include such terms as “missiles,” “space program,” “bare base,” “relocatable housing and structures,” and “turnkey construction projects.”
Among the most important developments of the period was the expanded role of Air Force civil engineers in expeditionary construction during contingency situations. Nearly simultaneously, the Directorate of Civil Engineering implemented the Base Engineer Emergency Force, known as Prime BEEF, and troop construction capability, known as Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron, Engineer or RED HORSE. The implementation of Prime BEEF aligned Air Force civil engineers to support Air Force contingencies and base emergencies. RED HORSE squadrons undertook troop construction in contingency situations, thus reducing reliance on Army support that historically proved problematic. Prime BEEF teams and RED HORSE squadrons were deployed immediately to Southeast Asia and South Vietnam where they successfully completed a wide range of projects critical to the support the Air Force mission.
Air Force budget levels during the period varied greatly and were dependent upon national policy and Congressional approval.
In 1964, the Department of Defense ordered base closures and the realignment of military units, both in the United States and overseas. As U.S. involvement in Vietnam escalated, construction budgets in the continental United States (CONUS) were frozen in October 1967; funds were directed towards construction projects in Southeast Asia and the development of new weapons systems. By 1968, the Air Force had relinquished 110 obsolete missiles sites, obsolete radar stations, and six air bases in CONUS. Overseas, 64 installations in France were closed following that country’s withdrawal from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1966. In September 1969, President Richard M. Nixon imposed a 75 percent reduction in Federal construction, eliminating $146 million earmarked for the Air Force. During the early 1970s, President Nixon continued dramatic reductions to defense expenditures and ended U.S. involvement in South Vietnam. Nixon adopted the policy that the United States would not commit ground forces to address conventional threats to the security of allied countries, aside from South Korea and NATO allies of Western Europe.
Next Era Building on Success 1975-1990
Previous Era Establishing Independence 1947-1959
*the content above is an excerpt taken from Leading the Way.