Fort Bliss contracting takes team effort
February 27, 2014
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Feb. 27, 2014) -- In just 12 months, the Mission and Installation Contracting Command transformed from a command performing acquisition support with an additional duty of training the next generation of contracting professionals into an organization providing ready and deployable Soldiers.
Beginning March 20, 2013, the MICC was comprised of 1,400 Army civilians and only 30 contracting Soldiers scattered throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. Today, more than 350 uniformed members stand among the MICC ranks with the mission of enhancing their contracting skills while working closely with seasoned Army civilians.
The MICC-Fort Bliss contracting office in Texas is the epitome of the military integration across the command. The attachment of Soldiers to MICC offices began last year as Army Contracting Command officials determined to streamline the span of control of Soldiers stateside while enhancing their professional development, and the MICC-Fort Bliss staff as well as other MICC offices welcomed the new members with open arms.
One of the first people new contracting Soldiers meet at MICC-Fort Bliss is Melissa Garcia. Garcia, a contracting officer with more than nine years experience and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Texas El Paso, works in the simplified acquisition division.
She said many of the 13 incoming contracting Soldiers assigned to Fort Bliss in the past year arrived after completing basic contracting courses, but several had not attended school yet.
"It is great to have them join our team. We embrace them and work with them on the cultural change of the contracting world," Garcia said. "We give them on-the-job training and go over the basics of contracting, so beginning in the simplified acquisition division is the logical first step for our new Soldiers."
Leading the MICC-Fort Bliss team is Lt. Col. Joel Greer. Also serving as the 919th Contingency Contracting Battalion commander, Greer's mission is to support the contracting needs of Fort Bliss as well as to prepare his Soldiers to be fully trained to deploy into any contingency environment. With 18 Soldiers on the staff and four more inbound, Greer empowered Garcia and the eight other members of the simplified acquisition division to mentor new MICC-Fort Bliss Soldiers.
It is important to integrate new Soldiers at the right level of contracting, and the simplified acquisition division is the best place to learn the basics before moving into more complex contracting procedures, Greer said.
"Melissa just doesn't tell them what to do, she sits, listens and talks to our Soldiers," he added. "Soldiers respect her because she established a solid foundation for Soldiers to take on greater responsibility."
New MICC-Fort Bliss contracting professionals go through an accelerated training development course leveraged to maximize the amount of hands-on learning as well as to expose new members to as much of the acquisition process as possible. New contracting members learn as much as they can while supporting the 30,000 Soldiers and their families assigned to Fort Bliss. Home to the 1st Armored Division and 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command, Fort Bliss is the second largest installation in the Army. In fiscal 2013, the MICC-Fort Bliss obligated more than $150 million on more than 2,000 contracting actions for the post.
It is important for Soldiers to learn as much as they can, because when the nation calls on them to deploy they will need to be trained and ready, Garcia said.
"The last thing I want them to worry about is that they do not know how to do contracting right when they are in harm's way," she said. "We need to give them every tool in our toolbox so they can have it all and know as much as they can as soon as they can."
When it comes to mentoring new Soldiers in her division, Garcia said she relies more on her time when she learned from her mentors: Jeff Parsons and Dr. Carol Lowman, who both are former ACC executive directors with whom she spent six months during a professional developmental course at Fort Belvoir, Va.
"I've been blessed with great mentors," Garcia said. "It is a big part of my success. It is still important to keep in touch because there are times when everyone needs a sanity check on how they are performing, and talking to my mentors definitely helps."
Training new contracting members takes a team effort. No other entity in the Army can provide the contracting training to Soldiers than the seasoned MICC workforce. Across the command and at MICC-Fort Bliss, seasoned Army civilians like Natalia Lerma work side by side with Soldiers.
"We all share our knowledge and work together," said Lerma, a MICC-Fort Bliss contracting specialist for three years. "Because we sit right next to contracting Soldiers we can always mentor them whenever they have a question while providing on-the-job training at any given moment. We are never too busy to answer their questions, because we remember what it is like to start a career in contracting. There really is a family environment here."
One of the newest Soldiers under Garcia's tutelage is Staff Sgt. Elijah Felton. He came to MICC-Fort Bliss in May 2013 after completing the Mission Readiness Airman Contracting Apprentice Course at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. After serving as a truck driver for eight years, Felton became interested in contracting and cross trained into the career field to help Soldiers get what they need.
"There is always something new to learn every day," Felton said. "It is great to have Melissa and others in the office to take tasks step by step. Civilians here have an abundance of knowledge, and they willingly pass that on to us. Civilian mentors not only take the time to help us learn contracting but also make us feel like a part of the family by helping us get settled into the area and truly care about my family."
Preparing Soldiers for their contracting roles is not the only thing Garcia does. She also took time recently with officials from FedBid, Inc., to improve business processes for the entire MICC. FedBid is an online marketplace to help federal businesses purchase simple goods and services. By using FedBid, MICC members can help customers save money by using reverse auctions. Garcia recently spoke with FedBid officials to initiate customer surveys to promote communication and to request FedBid to filter data to show trends that could enable MICC to see potential savings. Last fiscal year, MICC members saved more than $18 million for customers using reverse auctioning, and the prospective for more savings is possible with modifications to the acquisition process prescribed by Garcia.
"For our command to be successful, we need our Soldiers and Army civilians working seamlessly together focused on completing the acquisition mission for our customers," said Col. Bob Brinkmann, the MICC chief of staff. "MICC-Fort Bliss is leading the way in developing our new contracting Soldiers while consistently meeting the acquisition demands of their customers on Fort Bliss."
As a newly-formed staff, the MICC-Fort Bliss Soldiers and Army civilians have built a team that is trained and ready for whatever the future holds while continuing to provide responsive contracting solutions for the installation.