With their signature red hats and colorful patches on their shirts, there's no mistaking the group of Vietnam veterans who have invaded the Ramada Inn on Okaloosa Island.
Fifty years after their unit was chartered, more than 150 veterans of RED HORSE and Prime BEEF (Base Engineer Emergency Force) have returned to Northwest Florida to renew friendships, share memories, and revel in the many accomplishments of the Air Force's combat civil engineering and construction force.
The vets traveled from as far away as Hawaii to take part in the event, which concludes on Thursday. The group meets every two years at locations across the country.
"The folks always enjoy coming back here, because there are lots of memories," said retired Chief Master Sgt. Wayland Davis, a Choctaw Beach resident and one of the organizers of the event. "Those of us who are 'originals' -- members of the first group -- got our combat training in Eglin before we headed off to Vietnam."
During their stay on the Emerald Coast, the RED HORSE and Prime BEEF veterans have mingled with active duty RED HORSE crews at Hurlburt Field, and heard from speakers ranging from a major general to local commanders. Mainly, however, the veterans have focused on commemorating their celebrated history.
From the jungles of Southeast Asia to other hotspots around the world, the members of the legendary construction force have built runways and barracks and everything in between, often in hostile environments.
Unfortunately, when the airmen came home from the Vietnam War, they didn't exactly receive a warm welcome. On Wednesday morning, State Rep. Matt Gaetz tried to rectify that oversight.
"Here in Florida, we pride ourselves on being the 'Welcome Home State' for veterans," he told the group. "I'm so happy that you are all here today, so I can officially welcome you home on behalf of all Floridians."
Gaetz presented the group with a commendation from the Florida House and Senate, recognizing their accomplishments both at home and abroad.
"We are so blessed in this corner of the world to have our own RED HORSE presence," Gaetz added. "The work that they and you have done have helped to make America stronger, and the world a better place."