The 414th Contracting Support Brigade, Vicenza, Italy, recently supported the Flintlock 2013 exercise in Mauritania, Africa, with two contingency contracting officers.

Flintlock is a Joint Chiefs of Staff-directed, U.S. Africa Command-sponsored exercise conducted by the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahara focusing on improving the capabilities of regional militaries as well as to conduct civil military operations aimed at improving the health and welfare of local civilian populations. The exercise brings together participating multinational Special Operations Forces in a joint environment to develop and refine relevant tactics, techniques and procedures for today's operational environment.

Hosted by Mauritania, the annual capacity-building exercise drew more than 1,000 participants from 14 African and Western partner nations between Feb. 20 and March 9, 2013.

Bordered by the Western Sahara Desert, Algeria, Senegal and Mali, reports of conflict and unrest are constant in the region. With events unfolding in nearby Mali, each military force was aware that they could be called upon to support their neighbor in the fight against violent extremists.

It was into this region that Maj. Melody Varner and Sgt. 1st Class Wanda Knight, contingency contracting officers assigned to the Italy-based 414th, were called to provide support for the exercise. Their mission was to overcome language barriers and ensure that all contract requirements were met to support 1,200 participants from 17 countries at three remote training locations for 58 days.

Although there was only one contract for this exercise, it was a very complex requirement. The German contractor bought the U.S. Army Veterinary Command-approved food from a Dutch supplier, loaded it in refrigerated containers, and transported it via ship to the port of Nouakchott, Mauritania.

While in Nouakchott, the CCOs facilitated the contractor's entry into the country and onward movement of their equipment to the remote locations. Moving a dozen containers and the contracted workforce on questionable roads through hundreds of checkpoints was no small feat. The refrigerated containers required a generator to keep them cold during transport from the port to the field locations.

Once the contractor and equipment arrived at each site, working with the host nation was critical. Initially a problem, the language barrier was quickly overcome with the support of a 10th Special Forces interpreter who assisted until the contracted interpreters arrived.

Through it all, the two Soldiers had to survive the austere conditions.

Field conditions in Nema, Ayoun and Kiffa were a shock to the Soldiers and contractors alike.

The only operational toilets were squatters. Cold showers were the norm and temperatures often reached 130 degrees during the day and sandstorms occurred several times a week. The barracks and work areas were not climate-controlled. Laundry services were not available for more than a month, so washing clothes in a bucket became a necessity.

Since there was not a gym at the field site, the engineers built a pull-up stand and dip bar. The Soldiers used many other innovative methods to keep fit in the field, such as a homemade "sled" using a pallet and a box of water.

As is human nature, the Soldiers adapted to the situation.

Flintlock is the longest exercise supported by the 414th CSB. The CCOs were away from Italy for 75 days and spent 56 days in field conditions. Although this is not the "normal" contracting experience, both CCOs learned valuable lessons that they can carry with them throughout the rest of their careers.

Editor's Note: Additional information was compiled from Special Operations Command Africa Public Affairs and the 414th Contracting Support Brigade reports.