Civilian contracting opportunities available downrange
September 20, 2011
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- Large contingency operations such as New Dawn in Iraq and Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan magnify the need for delivering materiel and services in a timely manner to meet urgent wartime needs. Included in those requirements is the need for civilian contracting experts to sustain the limited cadre of active-duty contracting officers and specialists.
Among the Army Acquisition Corps employees supporting the warfighter and ensuring Soldiers are able to execute the mission efficiently are three Mission and Installation Contracting Command contracting specialists. Faye Shepherd-Brennen, Daniel Portillo and Tim Whitt volunteered to temporarily work overseas and have been or are currently deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan to assist with the Army's contracting requirements.
All three agree the decision to volunteer to deploy offered an opportunity to enhance their professional development and experience contracting in a way not typically found in their stateside positions.
"We worked six 12-hour days and one eight-hour day," said Shepherd-Brennen, who worked in the acquisition support branch responsible for contract close-outs, claims and litigations while deployed to U.S. Central Command Contracting, Regional Contracting Command Central in Baghdad, Iraq. "The work day began at 6:30 a.m. and ended at 6:30 p.m. All of the contract files for forward operating bases in Iraq that had closed were sent to us for close-out. There were several thousand contracts needing to be de-obligated, invoices needed to be paid, contracts needed to be closed-out, and claims needed to be settled. So there was never a shortage of work."
The long hours by Shepherd-Brennen are helping ensure the process of withdrawing operational forces from Iraq runs smoothly.
"The presence of deployed civilians helped the Soldiers accomplish their mission of shutting down the forward operating bases and getting troops out of Iraq in the prescribed time frame," said Shepherd-Brennen, who is a contracting officer with the MICC Contract Support, Plans and Operations Division at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
While operations in Iraq are winding down, the mission is in full swing in Afghanistan, and Whitt and Portillo have found little change in the operations tempo there.
"The job is demanding in terms of workload and hours," said Whitt, a contract specialist with the MICC Installation Contracting Office-Fort Carson deployed to Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan. "I don't think anybody here works under 85 to 90 hours a week. But as time passes, I find that I actually enjoy coming to work, and it's getting better every day."
Whitt works construction contracts to build new facilities and upgrade existing structures at Camp Leatherneck and throughout the Helmand province in Afghanistan for use by servicemembers and Afghan partners to enhance their wartime capabilities.
Although some elements of the job remain constant despite the long hours, the deployed environment does present some unexpected opportunities unwind -- and share a chuckle.
"The job itself hasn't changed from back home; the average workday begins at 9 a.m. usually with at least a dozen or more emails, which rarely are good news," Whitt said. "We also get to laugh, like when the military police drove his leased vehicle into a drainage ditch right in front of our office. We had a great time with that one because he started to drive off, but the contracting officer for the vehicle contract stopped him to get photos for the contractor claim for the damage."
Whitt also recalled a time when a field officer was asking why he could not order a goat with operations and maintenance funds for locals in a nearby village to sacrifice.
Although always ready to share a good story, civilian acquisitions professionals working in forward locations also remain keenly aware of the danger faced daily.
"The difference from serving stateside would be just the sheer volume of work, the long hours and knowing that at anytime you could come under fire," Shepherd-Brennen said. "Also interesting was the vast number of people from all different countries working in Iraq to support the warfighters."
All believe they have gained a new perspective of the Soldiers they support and the mission they perform by taking advantage of civilian deployment opportunities.
"At times you feel guilty because you volunteered, whereas they didn't have a choice," Shepherd-Brennen said. "The whole experience gives you a better understanding of what Soldiers have to go through, and you really have a greater appreciation for them."
"I believe it makes us better civilian employees. Since we are in an enclosed compound, we get to know each other better," said Portillo, a contracting officer from Fort Bliss, Texas, who is deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan. "We see our Soldiers exposing themselves to very dangerous situations to protect us and carry out their missions. In our own way, we contribute to their success by working until the job gets done no matter how hard, how long or how complicated. I believe that because we are in a war zone, everything you do means a lot more."
Whitt also believes that the close quarters environment of deployments help build camaraderie with those they support.
"I think of all of the servicemembers that I work with as friends," he said. "They are a great, fun-loving group with constant jokes. Of course, they all have the usual bravado, but during the day we have a great time."
Following a long day, each still finds time to a break away from the mission to decompress.
"We all take our own breaks to go workout or just relax," Whitt said. "We talk with family and friends back home. We usually travel to the dining facility in groups, and the chit chat is about home, family or a friend, our cars or trucks. We grumble about the heat every day, and it never gets old. We all act like children in a candy store when a new care package comes in."
Shepherd-Brennen and Portillo described the deployment as a very sobering experience and a time for them to reflect.
"I missed my family the most while deployed. And I also missed all the freedoms we take for granted such as eating out at a nice restaurant or driving my car," said Shepherd-Brennen, adding that she'll miss the friendships that developed during the deployment.
"Looking at Kabul is like looking at Mexico 40 years ago," said Portillo, who was born in Juarez, Mexico. "It brought memories of my youth. In Afghanistan, people are very friendly and humble; much like the Mexican people."
Despite the long hours, temporary living arrangements, separation from families and other hardships that a deployment brings, these contract specialists value their experiences and take away a greater understanding of their impact to the war.
"I knew there was a need," Shepherd-Brennen said. "A need for the experience, for the financial gains and knowing I was on the frontline providing a service to the military."
To learn more about deployment opportunities, visit the Army Contracting Command Deployable Cadre website at www.armyhire.com/cadre. The program is the command's primary source for civilian employees interested in deploying in support of critical, highly visible requirements around the globe.
The program matches an individual's expertise and experience with the deployed mission needs of the Army Contracting Command with a goal of building a pool of qualified, well-trained volunteers willing to deploy. It is available to employees of ACC and its contracting centers and subordinate commands.