Prepare for the worst - Contracting specialists train for a natural disaster
January 29, 2014
FORT BLISS, Texas -- Whereas Hurricane Katrina killed 1,800 people, injured 17,000 and closed 30 hospitals, the double earthquake on the New Madrid fault line killed 3,500 people, injured 83,000 and damaged or destroyed 132 hospitals.
Thankfully, the earthquakes are fictional, used as the basis of a scenario for Operational Contract Support Joint Exercise 2014, Feb. 13-31.
Preparing for a disaster such as this was the focus of the contracting contingency exercise, which brought contracting specialists from every military service branch together with different civilian agencies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to practice reacting to a disaster with contracting support.
The operational contracting support specialists were placed into a fictional scenario in which they had to respond to supply requests caused by two earthquakes in the same seismic zone. Since the Department of Defense does not always have the exact equipment or personnel to handle the unpredictability of nature, contracting specialists reached out to multiple civilian agencies to find the best fit for the best price as quickly as possible.
"In a natural disaster situation, we're going to have many, many different players coming in -- from the FBI to FEMA to homeland security and everybody is going to need some type of support," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Andres J. Garcia, a contracting specialist with the 418th Contracting Support Brigade from Fort Hood, Texas. "People are going to need to eat; people are going to need a place to sleep, and we can make that happen."
This has been the fifth iteration of OCSJX and it has been so successful that the planning of next year's exercise has already begun, said Brig. Gen. Theodore Harrison, commander of U.S. Army Contracting Command.
"We've been using contractors to support military operations since the Revolutionary War, but what we haven't done is incorporate operational contracting support into our exercises. That's what we've done with OCSJX-14," said Harrison. "It's a very efficient way to train our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and civilians. It's very efficient, very effective and great for the taxpayer."
This year's scenario made sure to prepare these contracting specialists for anything that might be thrown their way by simulating an unprecedented amount of damage. Eight coastal states were heavily damaged with power lost throughout the region for months, water systems broken and fuel supplies limited. As requests for supplies come flooding in, the contracting specialists had to respond to multiple incidents at once. Often times they lost connectivity, forcing them to resort to filing paper requests. No matter what was thrown at them, they pressed on to complete the mission.
"Let's say one of the problems was debris removal," said Garica, explaining one of the many scenarios they encountered during the exercise. "So we cannot get to the epicenter of the earthquake to provide support because there is rubble all over the place. We don't have bulldozers, but we can contract out all over the United States to people who have construction companies and bulldozers and they can come over and clear all that stuff out."
All in all it was a great training experience, according to Army Col. Mike Hoskin, division chief of Operational Contract Support and Services at the Joint Staff, but perhaps the greatest benefit was that all of the different service branches and civilian agencies got to work first-hand with each other -- something they wouldn't normally get a chance to do at their home station.
"By mixing up with everybody, now we know how our sister services are doing contracting," said Garcia. "We're just becoming one united acquisition family among all the services -- pretty much among all of the federal agents."
The 19-day exercise accomplished several objectives: developing a framework and strategy for a stand-alone exercise, measuring readiness, and increasing senior leader awareness of contracting challenges. It was a feat no single organization could have completed alone, according to Col. Tim J. Strange, OCSJX-14 exercise director.
"The exercise would not have been a success without the great partnership between the Joint Staff J-4 (logistics), the Air Force contracting leads, the Army contracting leads, the Corps of Engineers, the National Guard Bureau, the Northern Command J-4, the Army North G-4 and the other Army North staff elements all working together in a teaming environment," said Strange. "I'm so grateful that we were able to work together to execute this exercise."