EL PASO, Texas -- Operational contract support, or OCS, training for more than 500 participants from across the DOD ended April 8 after 21 days as part of the Operational Contract Support Joint Exercise 2016 in El Paso.

OCSJX-16 integrated planning and key processes for the OCS; contract support integration, contracting support and contractor management functions. It included a focus on OCS readiness for those deploying in support of combatant commanders. This year, OCSJX-16 used the U.S. Southern Command Panama Canal defense scenario to support training and assessment of operational contract support capabilities.

Army Col. Joshua Burris, the Mission and Installation Contracting Command deputy chief of staff who served as OCSJX-16 Army lead and executive director, said OCSJX-16 validated the use of operational contract support in military operations as a force multiplier. This was the first year that included the integration of a warfighting organizations in the exercise.

"The addition of Army South and 1st Armored Division primary staff and the U.S. Southern Command component's tactical logisticians enhanced their understanding of how OCS integrates traditional military capabilities and relationships with economic capabilities and relationships for mission success," Burris said, adding that the warfighters trained alongside contracting, financial management and judge advocate participants.

Lt. Col. Rich Pfeiffer, the director at MICC-Fort Irwin, California, who served as the officer in charge of the OCS capabilities and analysis cell at OCSJX-16, believed that the presence of the warfighter added a realistic element to the training.

"I've been involved with this exercise for several years, and seeing how the warfighter's involvement has grown today is phenomenal," said Pfeiffer. "It all begins with the requirement. Getting the requirement developer and owner here and interacting is absolutely taking us to a training level exponentially above what we've had in years past."

OCSJX-16 was the first time the United Kingdom participated as a training audience. The U.K. formed and operated their version of an OCS integration cell, called a contractor capability coordinator cell, to train on contracted support tasks and explore and assess OCS interoperability with the U.S. OCSIC. The CCCC developed a number of processes to improve staff coordination of contracted support capabilities.

Partner nations Chile and Brazil conducted an operational visit to the exercise to examine OCS concepts and their possible application during SOUTHCOM's PANAMAX-2016, and beyond. The discussion of OCS and the relationships based on the application of economic power was enhanced for future exercises and cooperative efforts.

In addition to supplementing organic military forces and capabilities, contracted support also provides services where no organic military capability exists that may present planning and integration challenges with joint force logistics efforts. Contract support integration entails the coordination and synchronization of contracted support in an operational area to reduce mission risk and further the attainment of mission success.

As exercise participants navigated through requirements, they ensured that their actions were executed in accordance with federal law, acquisition regulations, DOD and joint policy, and joint doctrine. They were divided into a structure of boards, cells and working groups responsible for coordinating commercially sourced capabilities during the exercise.

At the regional contracting center level, OCS actions are aligned with tactical needs, said Lt. Col. Toney Stephenson, the commander for the Mission and Installation Contracting Command's 902nd Contracting Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, who served as a trainer for an exercise RCC.

Stephenson said the lessons learned from the MICC's deployments to West Africa in 2014 in support of that government's response to the Ebola epidemic and Operation Inherent Resolve in 2015 proved valuable with the exercise.

"We looked at having to go in early with the warfighter," Stephenson said. "It allows us to begin to look at requirements aligned to the mission. If you have a particular type of mission, you'll have particular types of requirements."

Stephenson said that enhanced understanding brings greater clarity for exercise participants on how the mission commander's priorities can shift though sustained operations as scenario requirements evolved from operational combined arms needs to supplies for refugee camps.

Both uniformed and civilian members of the joint team played various roles throughout the exercise.

"The DOD's Civil Service professionals are the backbone of mission planning continuity, contracting support, information technology and many other significant functions supporting the warfighter," Burris said. "The exercise could not occur without our civilian workforce."

A foundational element holds OCS as primarily an operational command requiring an active role by the entire staff and not a purely contracting activity function. This is the key takeaway planners hope participants took back home with them to their duty stations. It was also the message communicated to more than 60 distinguished visitors from throughout DOD, the Department of State and United Kingdom had the opportunity to witness firsthand the operational phase of the exercise and hear from OCSJX participants.

"We believe that trainees, participants, guests and distinguished visitors have an enhanced appreciation that operational contract support is not 'just contracting,'" Burris said. "It is a team sport of complementary non-acquisition and acquisition professionals, planning and integrating contracted commercial capabilities into the joint force commander's lines of operation to ensure positive economic effects support national, combatant commander and joint force commander strategic and operational ends. Continued OCS training, analogous to perishable skills such as weapon marksmanship and combined arms maneuver, must become ingrained into a staff's operational planning design process and across the CJCS Joint and Multinational Exercise Program."

Burris said the after action report will provide OCSJX-17 planners data to improve the next exercise.

"However, and more importantly for present and future use, OCS-related knowledge from the interaction and dialogue of non-acquisition and acquisition professionals who developed processes, checklists and critical thought is recorded and shared via the Joint Lessons Learned Information System," Burris added.

JLLIS facilitates the collection, tracking, management, sharing, collaborative resolution and dissemination of lessons learned, which improves joint and combined capabilities through policy, doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel and facilities.

Air Force Col. Robert Widmann, the OCSJX-16 Air Force lead and co-executive director, said preliminary plans for next year's exercise will evolve around a Pacific Command scenario depending on the warfighting units available to participate as well as continue to exercise all elements of OCS. He added that in addition to the primary training audiences of contracting, financial management and judge advocate, he plans to reach out to the J-4, or joint logistics, community to serve as planners, cadre and trainees.

"The addition of warfighting elements to the exercise brings the requirements ownership and execution together. The more demand signal we get from them, the more responsive we can be," Widmann said. "We are contracting. We respond to requiring activities, customers and warfighters. This exercise is only as good as that demand signal we get."

Burris added that to effectively plan for deliberate or crisis action, the early integration and synchronization of commercially sourced services into the operational design will reduce undesirable consequences.

"The warfighter is significant in the OCS process and is responsible for determining those non-organic requirements that require government contracting support. This year's exercise OCSIC was the first doctrinally replicative warfighter staffed cell since OCSJX began," Burris added. "Army South and 1st Armored Division staffs now have an appreciation of those effects, both positive and negative, from substantial commercially sourced capabilities. The OCSIC is the commander's tool to ensure his or her plan benefits from properly planned and procured commercial support, and that effects from contractors remain performance oriented and fiscally responsible."

Sponsored by the Director for Logistics, Joint Staff J-4, OCSJX exercises the full spectrum of contract support from operational through tactical levels. J-4 works across numerous logistics organizations including the DOD, combatant commands and multinational and interagency partners to integrate logistics planning and execution in support of joint operations.

Editor's note: This is the second in a series of articles examining the
reach and impact of the Operational Contract Support Joint Exercise-16.