FORT BLISS, Texas -- After four days of academics, approximately 230 members of the training audience at Operational Contract Support Joint Exercise-17 are now testing their skills and knowledge as they are bombarded with more than 270 scenarios over an eight-day period.
Twelve teams made up of contracting and finance personnel along with Joint Requirements Activity Cell members have entered the second phase of the two-week exercise. OCSJX-17 is the Department of Defense's premier operational contract support exercise and is designed to train individuals from the logistics, personnel, finance, legal, and contracting career fields.
According to Lt. Col. Cal Hodgson, the director of Joint Exercise Control Group, the scenarios the trainees are working through are based on real-world experiences.
"The scenarios are straight from the theater or something we know we need to work on," said Hodgson, deputy director of contracting at Air Force District of Washington Contracting Directorate, Andrews AFB, Maryland. "They are designed to make the training audience understand they are a strategic instrument and that their actions are ultimately on behalf of a Sailor, Airman, Solider or Marine in the field."
"We want the trainees to link what they are doing to higher level strategic objectives. To know what they are doing and how it supports the warfighter," stated Hodgson, who was one of those trainees just a couple years ago.
He explained that the JECG will look at how each cell reacts and responds to each inject and how they solve it as a team.
"Cell observers have what they feel is the expected action, and they watch to see if the team meets that expected action or not," said Hodgson. "Sometimes a team won't meet the expected action, but the answer is still right because they thought of something we didn't think of and that is still a good answer, so as long as we can look at it and determine they are still providing the appropriate support to the warfighter."
Hodgson said that some of the scenarios are used to have the trainees think about the impact on a local economy. The control group incorporates these because when thousands of forces arrive in an area of operations there is also an influx of money. That money then creates potential competitions for resources. Because as Hodgson explained, a warfighter is going to need some of these resources, say such as water, but if an organization doesn't carefully manage where their getting the resource, it could have a negative impact on the local population.
In this, the eighth iteration of OCSJX, scenarios to support special operations forces have been added.
"Supporting our SOF is an identified real-world weakness," claimed Hodgson. "A SOF unit does not always communicate where they are and where they are going by the nature of their business. They will show up at a supporting installation and say they need help and often these installation say 'tough,' and that's the wrong answer. So we have SOCOM planners here to specifically help us understand our role in supporting them."
Adding a new element, like supporting SOF, is part of the ever evolving nature of the exercise. One of the changes over the years hasn't been about adding new scenarios.
"The biggest change of the last few years is the complexity of the exercise," said Master Sgt. Noah Branscom, the JECG Noncommissioned Officer in Charge. "This [OCSJX] evolved out of a contracting exercise and now they've brought in the joint staff, plus took the approach of joint operations and getting into the OCS environment versus just contracting,"
In his fourth year of participation, Branscom a contracting officer at Buckley AFB, Colorado, with the Colorado Air National Guard, stated that there isn't an issue executing contracts, that instead it's developing requirements and maintaining contracts that needs to be improve.
"There was deliberate effort to focus on cross communication and involve the different functions," said Branscom. "Participants are no longer exercising in just their specific area of expertise, they are now involving finance and requirement folks. This helps trainees to get more of a broader picture and work the whole process versus each function doing their specific job and not even consider what's happening around them."
Besides increasing the complexity of the exercise, Branscom stated there's been a push to increase the credibility of the exercise as well.
"We make an effort to get the right people for the right position," he explained. "We've learned that even the functions such as a role player need to have the knowledge and capability to understand the scenario or the entire inject loses its credibility."
"The trainees can pick up on that very quickly and then there's a loss of benefit," continued Branscom. "So a year's worth of preparation could go down the drain if you don't have the right individual bringing the message to the training audience."
The foot stomping message that both Hodgson and Branscom echoed was that this exercise and the scenarios within it are to get participants to look beyond their specific task and look at the strategic view. They want a trainee to understand how their tactical role feeds into a bigger operation and what each participant is doing to support the warfighter.
As concluded by Hodgson, "It's not about completing a transactional endeavor or signing the contract to buy 'the thing,' it's about knowing they are supporting the warfighter."