JCRX-13: Coaches, mentors help participants stay on track
February 14, 2013
FORT BLISS, Texas-During the Army Contracting Command's Joint Contracting Readiness Exercise 2013 here, contracting trainees in simulated regional contracting centers were able to depend on coaches, mentors and assessors for help as they worked their way through four days of military contracting training.
In her first year in the roll of a coach, mentor or assessor, Master Sgt. Cynthia Perryman, Mission and Installation Contracting Command-Fort Carson, Colo., says her duty was to ensure teamwork was part of the equation as the contingency contracting officers performed their tasks.
"I'm looking at the noncommissioned officers-in-charge of team members to see how they react to dealing with new contracting experiences and daily operations," she said. "The three NCOICs I'm assessing are very strong and knowledgeable leaders. They are really motivated and they keep their teams pumped up."
Also the senior enlisted advisor with the 918th Contingency Contracting Battalion at Fort Carson, Perryman said her exercise role as a CMA afforded her the opportunity to share her experiences and to learn something new as well.
"I get to see some of what not to do and a lot of what to do," said the 23-yearveteran who has been in contracting for four years. "I've gone down range and sharing my experience with those who have not is an honor. I can see (in their actions) how I reacted to things when I was deployed and I am able to help them avoid some of the pitfalls."
Perryman said operations on day one tended to be tiring, but ran smoothly; it was after day two that the real challenges began.
"People will change from the stress of heavy workloads and you will see how things really get done down range," she said.
Anna Walker, MICC-Fort Bragg, N.C., said she likes observing the trainees in her notional regional contracting center and assisting them before they lose too much time and get off track. That means advising them on how to work with the contracting software.
"Most are not familiar with what the contracting officer can to do on (the Procurement Desktop-Defense System) because normally they don't have the administrative rights to do a lot of things required here," said Walker.
Nonetheless, she liked their enthusiasm.
"They are not afraid to ask questions and they listen to each other," she said.
Though the trainees first rallied around the highest-ranking person in the group, Walker said, that changed quickly. A veteran with more than 10 years of experience in military contracting, she explained why.
"A staff sergeant who's been around may have more knowledge of the system and how things operate because they've been there doing it," Walker said. "So now they are asking questions and feeding off each other. You see them all congregating to one area where someone is explaining something that the group might not know. I'm really impressed by that."
Lt. Col. Alejandro Ayala, ACCAberdeen Proving Ground, Md., liked the trainees' diverse level of experience.
"It's a good mix, we have folks who've been deployed, not necessarily in a contracting role but who are familiar with deployments," he said. "We also have civilians that have been deployed and some that haven't. The energy within the teams has things flowing really well.
"They are sharing what they know and are remaining flexible, and flexibility is what makes the exercise flow," Ayala said. "You have to be willing to learn and deal with challenges you normally don't come across in a stateside contracting office. Some of the civilians and Soldiers new to contracting are learning from the challenges faced in a contingency environment."
Some CMAs see the lack of experience as a possible road block, not to operating in a deployed environment, but to learning the basics of contracting.
"The biggest challenge is that some of them are expecting to learn contracting here and they probably are not going to get that in this environment," said Army Reserve Maj. Donald Leath, 915th CCBN, Baltimore, Md.
Leath who also serves as a civilian contracting officer with ACC-National Capital Region, Alexandria, Va., admitted that the exercise did pose some challenges for the trainees because of their inexperience.
"I think about 80 percent of this RCC has less than a year of experience, so for them this is the first time they've had hands-on contracting experience working as a team," he said.
Despite their inexperience and after overcoming the initial shock of learning what was expected of them to execute a heavy workload in a "deployed" environment, Leath said, the trainees started to "jell." I saw them start to think, start to jell and become more accustomed to the environment, he said. They started to perform.
It's training, Leath added, that teaches them how to work as a team in a deployed environment.
Kimberly Kilpatrick, chief, Pre-Award Division, MICC-Fort Bragg, and a 13-year veteran of contracting, agreed but added that some of their training should be conducted at home station.
"A big concern among some of the coaches, mentors and assessors is that the contingency contracting officers need to work more on the basic fundamentals at their home bases," she said. "We can teach them aspects of the exercise and we can teach them how to set up an RCC forward, but we can only prepare them so much in a six-day exercise.
"Early in their careers we need to make sure they have the basics," Kilpatrick said. "When they are at home station they do a lot of (proficiency guide) assessments which are contingency related. They do all types of training with their supervisors and division chiefs. They need to continue with that training and learn as much as possible."
She hopes that next year they can help the trainees even more by providing examples of well-written contracts to take with them once the exercise is over.
"This exercise is all about training future CCOs," Kilpatrick said. "I plan on submitting a suggestion requesting we show them what right looks like by providing perfect examples of requirements packages, what a perfect commodities contract looks like - a contract with all the 'i's dotted and 't's crossed so they can see and have one to look back on in their database."