WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 2012 -- While the U.S. military will shrink in the coming years, the contracting career field will buck the trend and grow, officials at the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center said.

The field is open to officers and enlisted soldiers, and the total Army population in the military occupational specialty will double by the end of fiscal 2013, officials said.

Those selected will become part of the Army Acquisition Corps.

The Corps needs more officers in functional area 51 and noncommissioned officers in military occupational specialty 51C.

On the officer side, the Army typically looks for officers in their sixth or seventh year of service. "We would like to have them starting to look at the career field when they are lieutenants, but they transfer to the career field after they have their branch qualifying job as a captain," Army Maj. Anthony Maneri said during a recent interview.

The enlisted side is a bit different. The service targets sergeants and staff sergeants under 10 years of service. "They must be in balanced or overstrength military occupational specialties," said Army Master Sgt. Jason Pitts, a specialist at the center. "There are over 180 MOSs, and there are only nine that are not eligible, so pretty much any soldier is eligible."

Those interested must send in a reclassification packet. The Acquisition Support Center at Huntsville, Ala., holds a quarterly board composed of sergeants major and lieutenant colonels to select the best-quality soldiers for transfer. Soldiers selected for the 51C MOS may qualify for a $2,000 transfer bonus. There is no re-enlistment bonus, because "right now our people are staying in," Pitts said. "It's a great job."

No unit ever goes on deployment with everything it needs, Maneri said. Army contracting specialists work with commanders to get exactly what a unit needs in the field. This runs the gamut from food and water to building materials to plasma screens and so on.

The force views these contracting specialists as force multipliers. "You are the procurement guy for the guys in the field," Maneri said. "You also are a business advisor to the battalion or brigade or division commander."

In the field, acquisition experts work on four-member teams -- a major, a captain and two NCOs. They work at every level from the company up to division.

The specialists speak the language of the military and also the language of business. "I spent 14 years in the infantry," Pitts said. "I understand the commander's mission. And I understand how I can use procurement to support that mission."

The officers and NCOs help to push technologies downrange. For example, contracting specialists helped in getting improvised explosive device jammers to soldiers quickly in 2003 and 2004.

That led to a breakthrough in how commanders viewed contracting specialists, Maneri said. "In the early days, commanders weren't sure what we could do for them," he said. "After a few successes, warfighters started understanding the other aspects that we could offer to help them do their jobs."

Army Lt. Col. Matt Schramm, another specialist at the center, said there's little difference between the officer and enlisted training. "It's essentially the same training that people in private industry receive," he said. "This enables us to speak the same language that they do at Coca-Cola or Boeing or Google or wherever."

Page last updated Wed February 8th, 2012 at 00:00