SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Thousands of contract crews, bolstered by the steadily increasing arrival of critical materials, continue their work to restore the power grid of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

At the center of this power restoration mission, which is the number one priority throughout Puerto Rico, is the Bill of Materials, or BOM Squad, part of Task Force Power Restoration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

To date, the BOM Squad has issued to contract crews over 300,000 items of grid component material, including 14,050 utility poles, and 1,100 miles of cable and conductor wire, enough to completely encircle the perimeter of the island 1.5 times.

Approximately 5,789 poles and 1,250 miles of cable and conductor wire are slated to arrive in the next 14 days.

The Mission

The BOM Squad's mission is to identify and acquire materials, maintain their accountability, and distribute those materials as quickly as possible to the contract workforce here.

To perform this critical task, the BOM Squad works closely with its Army Corps headquarters in Washington D.C., FEMA Logistics, the Puerto Rico Electrical Power Authority, the Defense Logistics Agency, The Department of Energy, the USACE Logistics Agency, Edison Electrical Industry; American Public Power Association; utility companies, both large and small, and other U.S. Army assets.

The Process ...

Army Maj. Gerald W. Halfhide III, a logistics officer from USACE headquarters, is the BOM Squad program manager. He develops and orders sourcing material for the squad. Once a request comes in for needed materials, especially those that haven't been previously identified, Halfhide finds out what that material is, how much is needed, and what the technical specifications are.

"I need to know exactly what that item is before I initiate a rapid-sourcing purchasing acquisition," explained Halfhide.

But before that process begins, Halfhide and the squad look internally to see if that item is on hand.

Once a construction crew identifies a need for specific materials, they submit a Defense Department 1149 form. The DD 1149 is used for invoice, requisition, and shipping of materials between shipping and receiving parties who are under the Department of Defense. It is also used to transfer government property to a contractor or from the contractor to the government. It's the go-to form for the BOM Squad because it allows them 100 percent tracking and accountability through their automated program management system.

Daniel S. Brown is the BOM Squad's chief accountable officer and a Corps senior logistician. Brown and his team look through their materials inventory at the Corps warehouse in Ponce, Puerto Rico. If they don't have the requested item on hand, then the request is sent to PREPA to fill. If PREPA doesn't have the item in stock, then it goes to Halfhide's desk to order.

Rapid Sourcing Solutions

There are three ways Halfhide can purchase materials. The conventional procurement is through the Defense Logistics Agency. Halfhide notifies DLA of its material need. DLA works with three vendors: Noble, Power Supply and Science Applications International Corporation. Those three vendors then find the needed material, come back and inform DLA that these are our best and final cost quotes. DLA performs analysis to ensure a fair procurement process, and offer these quotes to Halfhide.

The second procurement method is through Edison Electric Industry, and investor-owned utility companies. Do you have this in your inventory? Do you have it on your shelves? If the item can't be found anywhere else or the lead time is too long, their vendors reach out to other utility companies and come back with best and final quotes. This process is necessary due to federal regulatory requirements.

The third method is through the squad's BPA or blanket purchasing agreement. Halfhide held up more than 50 manufacturer and vendor business cards. He calls each one until he locates the requested material and asks for their best and final quotes. In the search for needed materials, Halfhide has reached out to manufacturers and vendors throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and some in South American countries.

"We also use rapid sourcing solutions to reach out to on-island warehouses and companies to fill material requests," said Halfhide. "We use market research to ensure the procurement process is fair, but we obviously want to help the economy here."

Halfhide singled out the awesome support provided by the Department of Energy.

"Tim Thompson and Jeff Miller of DOE are our subject matter experts on identifying power grid materials. They can look at an item and tell if it is a critical component needed by our workforce; and if not, recommend a substitute item that is readily available here," said Halfhide.

"It's all about getting the right materials here as quickly as possible and turning the lights back on," said Halfhide.

"Time is King" is the BOM Squad's motto.

Receipt and Delivery

Materials destined for the island are flown in or shipped to the ports of Cape Canaveral and Jacksonville, Florida, for onward shipment by barge to the Port of San Juan. Utility poles come through Cape Canaveral; all other BOM Squad materials go through Jacksonville.

It takes a week to arrive here via barge. Upon arrival, the materials are offloaded and transported to the warehouse in Ponce. Utility poles go straight to the workforce upon arrival at the San Juan port.

"We maintain 100 percent accountability of every item, from the smallest electrical component to the 5,500-pound concrete utility pole, until it arrives at the delivery site, is stored and ultimately issued to the workforce," said Brown.

Halfhide admitted that his team becomes frustrated when they can't quickly deliver a critically needed part. He said it has a lot to do with the territory's antiquated infrastructure, and the fact that manufacturers are literally making needed parts. "They have to retool their warehouses to get the materials to us," said Halfhide.

Procurement Challenges

"Puerto Rico's energy infrastructure is about 44 years old, compared with an average 18 years in the U.S. mainland, so a lot of parts damaged or destroyed by the hurricane are no longer available and have to be manufactured," said Task Force Power Restoration Commander Col. John P. Lloyd.

Halfhide said another factor is that manufacturers' warehouse shelves are empty.

"First Houston, Texas was hit by Hurricane Harvey. And because manufacturers no longer had to carry as much materials in their warehouses due to deregulation, the majority of their shelf inventory went to support Houston's recovery," said Halfhide.

That was followed by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which devastated the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Florida. Add to that, the disastrous California wildfires.

"The difference between Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, is if a utility pole is down, you can strip the pole, scavenge for materials, strip the wire. In California, everything was burned to ashes; nothing to salvage," said Halfhide.

Accountability and Transparency

Every night the BOM Squad pushes out to the workforce a daily situation report, so they can see any changes in parts that may have been found, along with Crowley Shipping's movement report and the squad's inventory list. The squad said it's all about transparency ... making the requisition process easier with the contractor, so with as little bureaucracy as possible, they can go draw materials from the warehouses.

Another great tool provided to the workforce daily, is the BOM Squad's Task Force Catalogue.

The BOM Squad discovered that a lot of electrical companies or construction crews here used different names to describe the same items. A transformer can be called a bucket, or a kettle or a pot or a tub; and when they requested that item, the squad oftentimes didn't know what they were talking about.

Outside the Box Innovation

The brainchild of L'Tanya "Tammi" Jeffries, BOM squad program analyst, the TF Catalogue documents and provides a description and photo of each in-coming material in the squad's inventory. Each item includes a PREPA stock number and the item's manufacturer name.

Jeffries updates the catalogue daily. She visits the Ponce lay-down yard and warehouse every two weeks to check the materials inventory and keep the catalogue current.

A Louisville District Program Analyst, Jeffries also handles material forecasting, the blanket purchase agreements process, and assists other squad logisticians in completing 100 percent inventory at Corps warehouses here.

Every Wednesday, the BOM Squad meets with anybody that receives materials to discuss the 1149 process; field questions and issues that arise; and discuss the use of alternate materials.

"This is my first deployment experience in support of a natural disaster," said Jeffries. "It has been an emotional, spiritual and mental experience that I will never forget. It has made me see how the Corps family comes together to make sure our mission is met, and I'm very proud to be a Corps employee."

Expanding Operations

The BOM Squad is currently expanding its distribution presence throughout the territory to get materials to the workforce more efficiently and quickly. USACE has two sites, one in Ponce and Bayamon, and a joint USACE-PREPA site in Palo Seco.

Initially, all materials coming into the island in support of the TF Power Restoration mission were delivered to the Ponce warehouse site via the USS Britain I and II. The ships were later relocated to support U.S. Central Command, headquartered in Florida, and Crowley Shipping, a FEMA-contracted asset, decided to only ship to the Port of San Juan.

"These regional warehouses will increase our visibility across the island of what PREPA and USACE has in their inventories, and give the customer the opportunity to go into any of those operations and pull material either from PREPA or from USACE," said Brown.

Community Support

On Monday, the squad began pushing materials to Bayamon, thanks to the town's mayor.

TF Power Restoration met with Bayamon city leaders Dec. 22, 2017 to discuss the potential use of city land space at the Bayamon sports complex in the greater San Juan metropolitan area. The task force sought the temporary use of the property as a warehouse and staging area for critical materials used in the power restoration mission, including utility poles and other power grid supplies.

In approving the request, Bayamon Mayor Ramon L. Rivera Cruz, said: "We need your support ... for the whole island. If we can do something in that process, that would be perfect, because Bayamon is going to be included in the [recovery] process that you are making in Puerto Rico."

Brown said these satellite warehouse sites will dramatically allow for more balanced distribution across the island, and reduce the workforce's current travel time to get materials into their hands.

"Depending on traffic and road conditions, the drive to Ponce's distribution site could take anywhere from 20 minutes to three hours," said Brown.

Forward-Leaning

Brown said the BOM Squad's continued goal is to turn around our workforce's 1149 material requests within 24 hours. "We'll push out up to several hundred thousand materials each time we receive a large container."

True Professionals

Brown also had praise for his fellow junior logisticians.

"Pulling from our BOM Squad staff, we were able to go out and stand up three additional warehouse and staging area operations. That's a significant accomplishment," said Brown.

Greg Thomas, warehouse officer in charge; Gary Ewing, warehouse OIC; and now Kenny Hill, warehouse OIC; they represent our junior logisticians here, and have taken on a huge responsibility, said Brown.

"As a senior logistician, I've never been as proud of the USACE Logistics Activity as I am right now. With our limited staff, we needed to expand and stand up these warehouse operations, and I gave that responsibility to these young logisticians.

"They readily accepted the mission and are doing a phenomenal job establishing the operations and managing those programs. I feel blessed because it represents the quality of the logisticians deployed here in support of TF Power Restoration," Brown said.

Rounding out the BOM Squad staff are: Capt. Cesar Zayas, Randy Crapps, Sgt. 1st Class Juan Ortiz-Feliciano, and Joseph Barajas. Capt. Justin Yellco, New York National Guard, arrived here three days ago and will work grid component material forecasting.

Joseph Barajas, a fleet management/transportation specialist from Southwest Division, has processed over 7,000 line item requests for materials since early November 2017. Each line item represents 10 DD Form 1149 contractor material requests.

Randy Crapps, a facilities specialist, Little Rock District, coordinates all the transportation and movement of materials, containers and utility poles arriving here. Crapps has received and directed shipment of over 1,000 utility poles, 54 containers full of grid component materials, and several thousand rolls of cable and conductor wire that he's pushed here from Jacksonville, Florida.

Capt. Cesar Zayas is a logistics liaison officer and U.S. Army reservist in Miami, Florida, and Sgt. 1st Class Juan Ortiz-Feliciano is a logistician. Together, they handle inter-island transportation, responsible for delivering materials from the Port of San Juan to the actual requesting official.

Zayas, who joined the BOM Squad Nov. 27, 2017, is an associate professor of military science for ROTC at Florida International University. He is also a federal agent in the Miami regional office of the Department of Health and Human Services. Zayas has been the liaison between contractors and vendors during the set-up of the Ponce warehouse and staging area operation.

He said that his language capability, and that he once lived here working with the Department of State regional office, has served the BOM Squad well in coordinating with different vendors and interpreting for the local residents when there was a language barrier.

Zayas was later tasked to manage the utility pole distribution throughout the island and ensure the poles, once they arrived at Pier 16, reached the contract crews, as well as PREPA.

"I often serve as the voice of reason and act as a calming influence for the locals," said an emotional Zayas. "I let them know all the time that the Corps is not going to leave them behind; we are here to stay until all the lights are turned back on."

Ortiz-Feliciano joined the BOM Squad Nov. 29, 2017. He is a logistician with the 3/378th Regiment, 1st Brigade, 95th Training Division in Lawton, Oklahoma.

Ortiz-Feliciano is responsible for moving all the concrete poles and bases throughout the island. USACE has a contract with Power Precast Productions, Corp., a family-owned company that makes these poles in the town of Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.

Of the 14,050 concrete, metal and pressure-treated wooden utility poles issued by the BOM Squad to date, Ortiz-Feliciano has moved between 150 and 200 concrete poles every week from the Rio Grande site.

"I care deeply about this mission because I'm from the island," said Ortiz-Feliciano. "When I received the call to deploy here, I didn't think twice. I now have the honor and opportunity to serve my country, and my family in Puerto Rico."

"The entire staff have done just an absolute phenomenal job," said Brown, who redeploys to the mainland today.

Trust the Process

Maj. Stewart A. Cathey Jr. is an Army reserve officer, assigned to the 412th Theater Engineer Command. Cathey manages the BOM Squad mission. He attends most of the district and higher-level planning meetings. He takes all the in-coming flak so his squad can maintain blinders and continue their mission of turning the lights on in Puerto Rico.

Cathey hopes that going forward, the BOM Squad and PREPA can continue to enjoy a healthy relationship, one where both contribute equally toward the ultimate goal, which is to turn on the lights in Puerto Rico.

"I think people kind of lose sight that USACE has never done this type of mission before," said Cathey. "The uniqueness of the mission, the constraints of an antiquated power grid, and how devastated the territory was after the two storms has been challenging. We are literally rebuilding the electrical grid from the ground up."

Dan Brown often tells me that within Army procurement; within the federal government; it's a process and you need to trust the process, said Cathey.

"People wanted it here so fast; they wanted it here now; it just wasn't realistic," said Cathey. "From the beginning, USACE Chief of Engineers Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite briefed that the challenge here would be materials; our TF Power commander said the challenge would be materials.

"Now, if you look at the materials we've procured, the materials that we have distributed and the items we are projecting to receive in the coming days and weeks, we are starting to see that if you will trust the process, the material will be here and we'll get it into the hands of the contractors so we can turn the lights on for the people of Puerto Rico."

The BOM Squad all agreed that their mission here has become a magnificent obsession. Each and every day they arise, their collective focus is on getting the lights turned back on in Puerto Rico.

And true to their motto, "Time is King," they totally get the "Fierce Urgency of Now."