WASHINGTON -- The key to successful operational contracting support (OCS) in complex environments is a partnership between the supported headquarters and the contracting unit--a partnership that should begin months before both units board a plane to deploy. The future joint task force (JTF) and the aligned contracting unit must work together, plan together, train together and deploy together. Only through an established and codified relationship can the two units navigate environments in which contracting increasingly has become a critical element of the operational concept of support.The 900th Contracting Battalion and the 82nd Airborne Division, both based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, integrated their efforts as they prepared to deploy for Operation Inherent Resolve, in June 2015. That integration of efforts provides a case study in how two different but complementary units can plan, train and deploy together and, once operations begin, work together immediately and efficiently. In this case, the 82nd Airborne Division became part of Combined Joint Task Force -- Operation Inherent Resolve and assumed the mission to provide command and control of coalition troops training, advising and assisting Iraqi security forces. The 900th Contracting Battalion became Regional Contracting Center -- Operation Inherent Resolve, providing mission command and contracting support for all contingency contracting in the area of operations. Operation Inherent Resolve is the name for the U.S. military intervention against the Islamic State group, including the campaigns in Iraq and Syria.FORMING A TEAMA clear understanding of operational contracting support (OCS) is an essential part of the relationship between contracting personnel and the supported headquarters. Simply put, OCS is the process of planning and obtaining supplies, services and construction from commercial sources in support of commander-directed operations. As stated in Joint Publication 4-10, "Operational Contract Support," OCS requires commanders and staffs to fully consider cost, performance, schedule and contract oversight requirements as well as many other contract support-related matters (for example, risk of the contractor's failure to perform, civil-military impact and operations security) across the joint force.The three elements of OCS are contracting support integration, performed by the supported command; contracting support, performed by the contracting office; and contractor management, performed by both. Having actionable OCS knowledge requires constant collaboration between contracting and the supported unit. All of which brings us to the first lesson learned: Work together.As soon as the 82nd Airborne Division received the warning order in early 2015 to deploy in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the 900th Contracting Battalion received a similar order. Both units started performing mission analysis. Sustainment in Iraq relies on expensive air movement and, as the result of presidentially directed manning levels, depends on contractor support. Both units saw that the contracting support structure was unusually complex, given not just these challenges, but also that Iraq is a sovereign nation that must provide diplomatic clearance to contractors. There were also challenges of supporting a large coalition and the ongoing considerations of contractor security. The Iraq of Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn is not the Iraq of today.To facilitate working together, COL Michael R. Fenzel, then the 82nd Airborne Division chief of staff, offered space within the division headquarters to LTC Amanda Flint, the 900th Contracting Battalion commander, to embed military contracting personnel within the division headquarters. Assigned to the position and still reporting to the 900th Contracting Battalion, the author served as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division staff for contracting support and assistance.OCS AS A PLANNING FACTORThe next lesson learned was: Plan together. OCS planning, however, is primarily the responsibility of the requiring activity, not a contracting function. Only the requiring activity fundamentally understands what it will need to accomplish its mission.Unfortunately, proficiency in OCS can be hit-or-miss because of a lack of resident knowledge and skills, even with a contracting officer on hand. Because of the myriad contracting options, the wide variety of contracting authorities and the overall complexity of OCS, it is not commonly incorporated into plans. A key to a feasible, acceptable and suitable plan is to recognize OCS as a mission-essential task with proper command emphasis and a properly trained staff. This is possible through the establishment of an operational contract support integration cell.The organizational construct for the cell is not fixed. Rather, it depends on the scope, scale and complexity of the mission environment. Accordingly, the author advised the 82nd Airborne Division to select personnel with a variety of specific skill sets, emphasizing integration across multiple staff sections and, most importantly, the ability to effectively translate mission requirements to actionable requirement packets.The 82nd Airborne Division heeded the advice and focused on establishing an integration cell with officers, warrant officers and senior noncommissioned officers (NCOs) representing a spectrum of skills but all capable of understanding the complex tactical and operational environment of the JTF. To use 82nd Airborne Division terminology, they chose "studs" for the operational contract support integration cell mission. Personnel from various specialities formed the Coalition Joint Forces Land Component Command -- Iraq's OCS integration cell. The 900th Contracting Battalion assisted the cell as a mentor and business adviser.THINK TRAINING IS HARD? TRY LOSING.The next lesson learned was arguably the most important: Train together. The 900th Contracting Battalion and the 82nd Airborne Division participated in several training exercises together, from standard day-to-day operations at division headquarters to a U.S. Africa Command simulation that spanned multiple continents.The first priority, though, should be the two-week OCS course offered by the Army Logistics University. NCOs and officers who complete the course are awarded the 3C OCS additional skill identifier. The integrated contracting unit should encourage the supported headquarters to send as many personnel to the course as possible. This course will give the OCS integration cell personnel, in particular, the necessary skills to generate requirements. It is important for supported customers to understand that requirements generation and planning form the foundation for the entire OCS process and play a significant role in determining success or failure.After the members of the OCS integration cell have been identified and have received initial training, their training should continue with opportunities to generate real-world requirement packets through the local contracting battalion and U.S. Army Mission and Installation Contracting Command office. Performing management, forecasting and administration of real-world requirements is an important step in taking OCS from a conceptual idea to a tangible process for the integration cell. In addition, such opportunities can help the aligned contracting battalion to strengthen the relationship between the battalion and the cell, and identify the cell's strengths and weaknesses.The contracting battalion and supported headquarters should conduct joint training exercises in which OCS is incorporated within the mission-essential task list. In March 2015, elements of the 900th Contracting Battalion participated in Judicious Response 15.2 at Grafenwoehr, Germany, which certified the 82nd Airborne Division as a JTF. The integration efforts of the 900th Contracting Battalion as an enabling JTF staff proponent in the 82nd Airborne Division headquarters allowed simulated contracting actions to be a major part of the simulated noncombatant evacuation order operation. The efforts created a realistic training exercise for the future JTF headquarters and provided opportunities for the 900th Contracting Battalion to perform simulated contracting actions in a deployed environment.IT DOESN'T GET EASIER; YOU GET BETTERFinally, the contracting unit and requiring activity should deploy together. The U.S. Army Contracting Command is in the final stages of aligning contracting battalions with Army divisional units. This effort will enable the associated contracting battalions and division headquarters to maintain the same rotational cycle, which is necessary to allow the two organizations to maintain an enduring operational relationship.To be clear, though, deploying together does not simply mean stepping on the plane together. It consists of the required training and preparation that go into a deployment. The contracting battalion should do its predeployment site survey with its supported headquarters, enabling contracting personnel and the customer to gain the same view of their future operating environment. The contracting battalion should do as much of the required theater training with its customer as possible, including qualification ranges. These training events build bonds between the contracting unit and the customer that will pay dividends later.Once deployed, the contracting unit and the supported customer should work as closely as possible. Presently at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, members of the 900th Contracting Battalion and the 82nd Airborne Division operate in the same workspace, providing seamless transfer of requirements from requiring activity to contracting support. Resource managers from the 82nd Airborne Division Combined, Joint Assistant Chief of Staff for Financial Management (CJ-8), the 82nd Airborne Division OCS integration cell and 900th Contracting Battalion personnel perform their daily tasks together. For a complex contracting environment such as Operation Inherent Resolve, clear communication among requiring activity, contract support and resource managers greatly reduces the OCS fog of war.CONCLUSIONWhen the future JTF and the aligned contracting unit commit themselves months in advance to work together, plan together, train together and deploy together, they produce a cohesive effect.The 82nd Airborne Division and the 900th Contracting Battalion recently completed their Operation Inherent Resolve deployment, making a noticeable impact throughout theater and establishing a benchmark for follow-on units. Supported by the teamwork between contracting personnel and the OCS integration cell, coalition efforts against the Islamic State group continue to make a significant impact against the terrorists. Together, contracting personnel and the OCS integration cell are providing contract solutions to operational problems, satisfying warfighter requirements in terms of procurement cost, quality and timeliness.The 82nd Airborne Division, as the Coalition Joint Forces Land Component Command -- Iraq, is able to plan contracting into its concept of support and its concept of operations with realistic capabilities and limitations. Ultimately, contracting personnel and supported units can build upon the successes of the 900th Contracting Battalion and the 82nd Airborne Division to provide even greater operational contracting support for future operations.For more information on Regional Contracting Center -- Operation Inherent Resolve, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.This article was originally published in the April-June 2016 issue of Army AL&T Magazine.