CONTRACTING DEPLOYMENT
Sgt. 1st Class Eric Sears is now serving in Afghanistan as a member of the Joint Contracting Command. He recently left his job at AMCOM's Contracting Center and his family at Redstone Arsenal for the one-year deployment that will have him involved in managing contracts directly related to the war effort.

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- A few years ago, Sgt. 1st Class Eric Sears turned in the keys to his Army truck for a job that is now taking him halfway around the world to manage war-related contracts.

Sears, one of the Army's top non-commissioned officers, has recently deployed to Afghanistan, where he will serve with the Joint Contracting Command/Iraq-Afghanistan at the Herat Regional Contracting Center, Camp Stone.

"It's a one-star joint force organization supporting the Army, Navy and Marines," Sears said. "We provide contracting support to the war fighter in both Afghanistan and Iraq."

This is Sears' third deployment in six years. He first deployed to Baghdad, Iraq in 2004-05 as a mechanic with the 1st Cavalry of Fort Hood, Texas. His second deployment was as a truck driver in 2006-07 with the 413th Transportation Company, of Fort Lewis, Wash., stationed in Kuwait.

"During the first deployment, we were involved with recovery. If a vehicle was damaged or blown up, we'd go out and get it, and work on it. IEDs (improvised explosive devices) were prevalent so we dragged a lot of things back from the field," Sears said.

"On the second deployment, we did shipping, long haul trucking back and forth into Iraq. The longest round trip was 22 days. Most were five or 10 days. On those trips, we had to deal with roads being closed because of IEDs, and all kinds of things that would get in our way. But in that work I had the confidence to lead Soldiers and to accomplish the job."

This third deployment will keep him closer to his operating base.

"The majority of our work will be at the Regional Contracting Center. But we will do site visits to make sure contractors are performing to the contract," Sears said. "There are four to five of us in the office. Herat supports the whole western region of Afghanistan, and we will be administering existing and new contracts in that region. So there will be some travel in support of U.S. and Afghan security forces."

Sears is a contract specialist with the Aviation and Missile Command Contracting Center, where he has negotiated contract purchases for base operations, supplies, commodities and minor construction projects. About two years ago, the Army established a contracting specialist military occupational specialty "to maintain the continuity of skill," Sears said.

Sears is assigned to the 412th Contracting Support Brigade (San Antonio, Texas), 900th Contractor Control Battalion (Fort Bragg, N.C.). He is a member of one of the brigade's two nine-Soldier contingency contracting teams. Although his team is assigned to augment the AMCOM Contracting Center, its Soldiers can be deployed at any time.

The 412th reports to the Expeditionary Contracting Command, which reports to the Army Contracting Command and then to the Army Materiel Command.

As a Soldier in the 412th, Sears represented his brigade as its NCO of the Year in the ECC NCO of the Year competition at Camp Bullis, Texas, in March. Although he came in second runner-up, Sears enjoyed the challenge of the competition, which included a physical training test, weapons qualification, formal board review and land navigation.

"We had the land navigation competition through some really rough terrain on the side of a mountain," Sears said. "We had stations where we had to complete certain tasks, like calling in Medevac, evaluating casualties, maintaining weapons, and reacting to improvised explosive device and unexploded ordnance. It was a timed event in that we had to cover eight to 10 miles in four hours."

Sears said he did his best on the formal board review, where he answered questions about the chain of command, current events, regulations and other Army-related matters.

"The competition is not based on your job. It's based on Soldier concepts," he said. "It's a great way to test our abilities and knowledge as a Soldier, and a great way to support your organization. But the best thing about it is making connections with other Soldiers who are committed to be the best."

Sears joined the Army right out of high school in Rochester, N.Y. His decision was made haphazardly at a time when he didn't have any direction in his life.

"I'd moved out of my family's house when I was 16," he said. "By chance, I walked into the Army recruiting station. I had nothing better to do. The Army was the first door at the recruiting station and that was it. They offered me money. Three days after graduation I was at boot camp at Fort Benning (Ga.). It was the best thing that ever happened to me."

While stationed in Korea, his high school sweetheart joined him and they were married. They spent 12 months in Korea together.

"Eleven years ago, I never thought I would be married and have two kids," Sears said. "The Army makes you grow up and look at your future. It gives you a future and a chance to really do something that makes a difference."

Although the deployment takes him away from his young family, Sears is proud of his service to his country and comfortable knowing that his wife, Amy, and sons, 7-year-old James and 2-year-old Ethan, have plenty of friends around to support them during the deployment. Amy Sears is the volunteer coordinator for Army Community Service, which keeps her very involved in Arsenal activities.

This deployment, though, will be tougher, in some ways.

"The first two times I deployed, James was young enough that he didn't really know what was going on," Sears said. "But it will also be easier in a way because Amy has a lot of friends here. There is a real close knit community here."

The deployment will give Sears a better understanding of the capabilities of a contract specialist.
"This deployment can be a negative thing in some ways. At the same time, I need to look at the benefits I will get out of it," he said. "Three to four years of experience will be captured in one year just because of the amount of the workload. I will be working 12 to 15 hour days. And, somewhere in the time I am there, I hope to work online to finish my bachelor's degree."

Sears is planning on serving his country for at least 20 years, with most of that service in the contracting command.

"This is hands down the best job the Army offers," he said. "The opportunities are just fantastic."

Page last updated Fri May 21st, 2010 at 15:35