VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
A RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft assigned to the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base recently crashed during a trip back to its home station, June 21. The aircraft landed near Mount Whitney in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range, a terrain difficult to access via motor vehicle, or on foot. However, the topography is nothing new to Vandenberg’s Mounted Horse Patrol unit – the only existing unit in the Air Force.
Almost a week after the crash, the horsemen of Vandenberg saddled up, loaded their companions into a trailer, and prepared for their latest ride.
“On June 27th, we received a phone call requesting assistance with the RQ-4 Global Hawk recovery,” said Staff Sgt. Salvador Aceves, 30th Security Forces Squadron conservation law enforcement NCOIC. “On June 28th, the conservation unit deployed with four Military Working Horses to Lone Pine, California.”
The Mounted Horse Patrol began their expedition by surveying the affected areas while other troops gauged the damages on lower ground.
“The objective was to use the Military Working Horses to expedite the search area of 13 square miles and traverse the area troops could not effectively search due to chest-high sage brush,” said Aceves. “ATVs were not authorized for use due to being on Bureau of Land Management property, as well as the terrain consisting of high sage brush and large rocks. The conservation team spent a total of seven days in Lone Pine performing ground and other operations.”
The success of their excursion saved the Air Force a significant amount of time, manpower, and money.
“During the four days, the Military Working Horses covered 30 miles and saved the Air Force approximately $1.5 million and 168 man hours,” said Staff Sgt. Elias Romero, 30th SFS Mounted Horse Patrol NCOIC. “We were able to cover terrain in two days that troops on foot took one week to cover. We were also able to cover a 15-mile reconnaissance to establish a new Forward Operating Base for the Emergency Operations Center.”
No strangers to covering large amounts of land, the Mounted Horse Patrol is responsible for monitoring nearly 100,000 acres of land on Vandenberg.
“Our role is to enforce all federal, state, local cultural, and natural resource laws here on Vandenberg,” said Romero. “We patrol over 99,000 square acres of land, 70,000 of which are designated for hunting. We have 17 hunting zones, which have specific firearm restrictions. We also patrol the 36 miles of coastline owned by Vandenberg. This is accomplished through the use of our trucks, ATVs, Razors, and horses. Furthermore, we protect the 17 endangered species and more than 2,500 cultural sites located on base. Finally, we assist with every launch, conducting pre-launch impact limit line sweeps in areas that are not easily accessible. We’re responsible for maintaining the safety and security of the mission at hand.”
Though not their primary mission, the Mounted Horse Patrol unit is always prepared to answer the call of their next challenge.
“The Military Working Horses are an incredibly valuable resource to the Air Force for situations like this,” said Aceves. “If a similar situation arises, we will be ready.”