Expeditionary contracting starts here
June 25, 2012
More than just the standard books and lectures associated with classes, the Mission Readiness Airman Contracting Apprentice Course at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, provides a training environment similar to the realities its students will encounter in the field.
The course is one of two where Army noncommissioned officers receive their initial contracting fundamental training qualifying them for the Army military occupational specialty acquisition NCO, 51 charlie. The other is the Defense Acquisition University, Huntsville, Ala.
The instructors are military contracting professionals who have worked in the field and now provide mentoring and coaching to their students. The curriculum, which includes hands-on training, is focused on initial contracting fundamentals, innovation technology and real-world scenarios.
According to MRAC officials, the purpose of hands-on training is two-fold: first, to ensure that students have an opportunity to learn by practical application while being mentored and coached; and second, to assess whether they have mastered the necessary skills to perform contracting functions.
According to senior contracting professionals responsible for training the acquisition noncommissioned officers, charlie, there are pros and cons on which academic curriculum requirements meet or exceed minimum core task requirements for the specialty.
"The advantages of MRAC are the realities we see firsthand in the area of responsibility," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Leigh A. Baumbaugh, commander, Contracting Training Flight, 344th Training Squadron.
"I'm 100 percent confident that we are training our Soldiers and airmen here to a level that allows them to perform their mission when they hit the ground. We put blinders on to the service affiliation our students come from and concentrate on the fact that we are all acquisition professionals," said Baumbaugh.
According to Baumbaugh, the disadvantages of MRAC, though they won't be seen until the end of the fiscal year, will be that Soldiers will have to take additional federal acquisition regulation fundamental courses after completion of MRAC.
"Contracting specialists have a requirement to get (Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act) level one certification. The requirement can't be accomplished without one year of contracting experience," said Command Sgt. Maj. John Murray, command sergeant major, Army Contracting Command. "For that reason alone, contracting specialists are not truly at a disadvantage since they have additional time to work and be mentored on their craft.
"One of the main advantages of the MRAC is its three-week capstone lab where students are placed in a contracting office model," said Murray. "During the lab students complete 37 purchase requests, with a mixture of purchasing actions using simplified action procedures."
In November 2007, the Secretary of the Army established an independent commission on Army acquisition and program management to review the lessons learned in recent operations and to provide forward-looking recommendations.
"The adage, 'train as we fight,' is alive and well here at the MRAC," said Sgt. 1st Class Mark W. Reynolds, U.S. Army senior instructor/liaison. "This joint environment is similar to our contracting office structure down range. Introducing our noncommissioned officers to a truly joint forces environment early in their 51 charlie career will only strengthen their resolve as 51 charlies."
Baumbaugh said approximately 145 Army contracting specialists have graduated, with an additional 65 projected to graduate this fiscal year. She said the number of Army students has increased annually.
Since the program was established, there have been three Army instructors that have been selected by the school staff to come back and teach, said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Erica Reed, 344th TS instructor supervisor.
"Based on their experience with contracting as well as the insight gained as career noncommissioned officers, they provide tremendous experience and knowledge to our program," Reed said.
It's that experience that MRAC officials want passed on to the students.
"Soldiers entering the carrier field are provided hands-on training and personalized classroom instruction," Reynolds said. "It's important to ensure the Soldiers are proficient on the basic tasks within the proficiency guide for contracting officers. While deployed, 51 charlies are taught and encouraged to use reachback offices to facilitate complex contracting requirements. Contracting has one language and by everyone attending the same training, they all learn that language."
Offices receiving the new MRAC graduates tend to agree.
"Reports from our field offices state that when they receive a graduate from MRAC they are ready and capable to go work in a contracting office," Murray said. "They have been provided the skills and, most importantly, the confidence they need to be successful as a contracting noncommissioned officer."