BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (June 2, 2020) -- Soldiers from the 919th Contracting Battalion at Fort Bliss, Texas, who deployed to Afghanistan in August 2019 to lead Regional Contracting Center-Afghanistan are redeploying this week.
Commanded by Lt. Col. Eric Brooks, RCC-Afghanistan implemented effective contracting solutions to enable U.S. and coalition forces to build capacity and legitimacy for the Afghan National Defense Security Forces.
The contracting center is a subordinate command of Army Contracting Command-Afghanistan and serves as the primary contract support agency for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan. RCC-Afghanistan has a blended workforce of Defense Contract Management Agency employees, Department of the Army civilians, contractors and active-duty Soldiers.
Brooks, Master Sgt. Rachel Harris, 919th CBN senior enlisted adviser, Maj. Paula Harrell, the battalion executive officer, and Capt. Lawrence Forde, Sgt. 1st Class Fernando Ramirez and Staff Sgt. Cheryl Hood, 919th CBN contract specialists, departed from Fort Bliss to build relationships, strengthen readiness and deliver quick and efficient contracting solutions in support of 1st Armored Division. RCC-Afghanistan delivered strategic and operational contracting support to more than 50,000 U.S. troops, coalition forces and civilian personnel throughout 27 forward operating bases in Afghanistan.
Headquartered at Bagram Airfield, the diversity of the workforce presented unique challenges and created opportunities to collaborate and share best practices. Two principles implemented by Brooks throughout RCC-Afghanistan were to treat others with dignity and respect, and ensure people are the first priority. The command team worked as a single unit to synchronize direction, target the most effective priorities, and skillfully manage talent to accomplish its task of meeting the warfighter’s needs. RCC-Afghanistan closed fiscal 2019 with 1,142 contract actions valued at $526 million and closed 435 contracts with 232 de-obligations totaling more than $124 million.
After end-of-fiscal year closeout operations, RCC-Afghanistan leadership hosted the entire workforce at a local restaurant for fellowship and presented coins for fiscal 2019 achievements. ACC leadership visited with the RCC-A workforce in November 2019. The visit included leader professional development sessions for officers and noncommissioned officers from Maj. Gen. Paul Pardew and Command Sgt. Maj. Jill Crosby, fellowship luncheons and recognition of significant accomplishments by the workforce.
Contracting in Afghanistan is a fast-paced, dynamic environment highlighted by cradle-to-grave procurements for fuel, force-protection and private security contracts. RCC-Afghanistan fuels contracts powered operations for the Afghan air force and Afghan national army throughout a geographically dispersed logistics network consisting of 28 aviation fuel delivery sites and 695 ground fuel delivery locations. Force protection contracts for tall blast barriers, entry control points and perimeter fencing enhanced the survivability of the warfighter and private security contracts were essential to secure U.S. and coalition assets as well as ensure the freedom of maneuver for the Kandahar and Bagram flightlines. Throughout the deployment, RCC-Afghanistan averaged a portfolio of 100 to 140 new requirements in conjunction with 117 active performance contracts. Despite the size of the workload, the average procurement acquisition lead time for USFOR-Afghanistan was only 25 days. The battalion also encountered significant challenges with cultural corruption, contracting in an unstable security environment, changing requirements due to base closures and language barriers working with local Afghan vendors.
To meet these challenges, RCC-Afghanistan organized into multi-functional teams with a focus on customer alignment that integrated quality assurance and property administration representatives for maximum cradle-to-grave contract oversight. In the pre-award contracting division, service team one aligned with USFOR-Afghanistan; service team two aligned with CSTC-Afghanistan; the construction team aligned with the USFOR-Afghanistan Joint Engineers section; and the fuels team aligned with the operations and sustainment logistics section with CSTC-Afghanistan. The fuels team also joined the integrated product team for the counter corruption action group, resulting in more informed source selection decisions with Afghan fuel contractors. RCC-Afghanistan also imbedded an administrative contracting officer, procurement analyst and quality assurance representative with CSTC-Afghanistan at Hamid Karzai International Airport in order to deliver more responsive, on-site operational contract support for aviation and ground fuel. In aggregate, the pre-award contracting division executed more than 700 contract actions valued at more than $400 million. The pre-award division also developed strategic contract vehicles for construction materials, heavy equipment and trash removal to meet urgent needs of the warfighter as the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program footprint in Afghanistan downsized. RCC-Afghanistan grew the training and education of the financial ordering officer program from 56 to a peak of more than 80 trained and appointed ordering officers operating at 22 locations with more than $1.5 million drawn. This increased capabilities for operational commanders to reduce acquisition lead times through use of cash as an acquisition strategy.
Operational contract support through RCC-Afghanistan touched the daily lives of every Soldier and civilian throughout Afghanistan, providing critical functions such as in- and outbound mail service, laundry, janitorial services, private security and dining facility services. Other critical contract support missions included base optimization, tactical reset and contract closeouts to support base closures. De-obligation modifications through the closeout process, made more than $70 million available to be returned back to USFOR-Afghanistan and CSTC-Afghanistan. These funds were reprogrammed to meet other critical mission requirements that directly impacted the safety, health and welfare of coalition forces at 16 forward operating bases throughout Afghanistan.
The Contingency Contracting Administration Services division managed a portfolio of 35 delegated contracts valued at $21 billion and was responsible for the management and oversight of more 12,000 contractors. With 19 administrative contracting officers, the CCAS division managed the day-to-day operations of the LOGCAP IV contract, Task Orders 0004 and 0005, valued at $12 billion. LOGCAP encompasses more than 200 life support functions in Afghanistan, including food service operations, billeting management, emergency services, laundry, transportation and vehicle maintenance, facility management, handling of hazardous materials, and morale, welfare and recreation. CCAS also provided contract administration for the National Afghan Trucking contract, also known as NAT 3.0. This contract provided extensive transportation support including hauling, pickup and delivery of Class I and III supplies. The CCAS division was also instrumental in providing construction, waste management and power generation across the Train, Advise, and Assist Command-South, TAAC-Southwest, and TAAC-East missions executed by the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The RCC-Afghanistan property administration section, led by David Groell, oversaw eight contractors in theater and maintained custody of more than 142,891 pieces of government property valued in excess of $298 million. In addition, the team provided reutilization and disposal direction for 287 Plant Clearance Automated Reutilization Screening System cases and established and directed reutilization priorities to ensure that $7.3 million in assets were re-appropriated within the LOGCAP enterprise.
Contracting in a contingency environment presented additional challenges, including the constant rotation of military units that provide contracting officer representative support for all service and construction contracts in theater, and expansion or de-scoping of performing contracts due to force reductions. To meet these challenges, the RCC-Afghanistan staff provided continuous customer education and outreach.
“We must provide the best customer service – meet the customers where they are, build relationships, and work with the customer to get to yes,” Brooks said during his initial leadership philosophy briefing to the workforce in August. “Meeting the customer where they are served as the foundation of frequent command team battlefield circulation visits to Kandahar, Fort Operating Base Fenty at Jalalabad, and the Hamid Karzai International Airport.”
RCC-Afghanistan invested in the training and development of the workforce and other members of the acquisition team through a rigorous internal and external training program. Internally, weekly training sessions were executed weekly, ranging from topics such as Section 886 procedures, the bona fide need rule, contract action reports or market research, designed to enhance the technical proficiency of the workforce. Externally, the regional contracting center invested heavily in the training of customers and external stakeholders. A team of procurement analysts conducted recurring requirements package training for the CSTC-Afghanistan resource management, comptroller and operations and sustainment logistics groups. RCC-Afghanistan hosted a contracting officer representative summit to recognize outstanding performing contracting officer representatives, conduct training on procurement fraud awareness and contract surveillance, and share best practices in contract management. The training also provided instruction on the execution of detailed monthly status reports to enter past performance data into the Contractor Performance Assessment and Reporting System. More than 40 contracting officer representatives from 25 different requiring activities attended the summit. RCC-Afghanistan next hosted a CCAS boot camp focused on real-world Afghanistan specific scenarios. The CCAS training provided oversight techniques for contracting officer representatives and members of the operational contract support cell supporting the 1st Armored Division. LOGCAP professionals in Afghanistan also participated in the training resulting in better synergy between the contracting office and LOGCAP Program Management Office. Finally, RCC-Afghanistan initiated monthly working groups in April with the USFOR-Afghanistan Operational Contract Support Integration Cell resulting in better contractor accountability, requirements packages and acquisition planning to reduce acquisition lead times. On the active-duty front, the military hosted leader professional development sessions on contracting with the Army Corps of Engineers, LOGCAP 101 policies and procedures, the AIM 2.0 assignment module and the Army’s new talent management initiatives.
Despite the high operational tempo from working seven days a week for more than 10 months, Brooks established a healthy unit environment by encouraging camaraderie through organizational events such a Halloween haunted house, Thanksgiving banquet, Christmas surprise gift opening and Super Bowl celebration with homemade breakfast for the troops.
“Everyone must take time to decompress. Allowing people to decompress is as important as meeting contract deadlines,” Harris said. “Staying spiritually, physically and mentally fit is critical to performing at the highest level. Our people are our greatest strength. We have to look out for one another and take care of each other.”
In the last quarter of their deployment the 919th CBN faced the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic changed every aspect of contracting operations across the combined joint operational area. COVID-19 had significant impacts to the workforce and its contracts. All service and construction contracts were modified to include clauses implemented by the Cares Act. Movement of contractors and Soldiers were restricted throughout Afghanistan preventing contractors from entering the theater to execute performance on active contracts. Soldiers in contract oversight roles could not execute routine travel to visit job sites and social distancing guidelines required working with LOGCAP providers to reconfigure our dining facilities to take-out service only. In April, the RCC-Afghanistan workforce was reduced to 33% civilian strength and 36% strength for contracted contracting specialists due to the evacuation of high-risk personnel from Afghanistan. COVID-19 also increased the workload of our pre-award division by 10%. As a result, each member of the organization was required to go the extra mile to minimize degradation of services and ensure base life support contracts continued without interruption.
Despite workforce reductions, the contracting center pulled together to continue to provide timely contracting solutions to support and enable readiness for the warfighter and synchronize efforts across Afghanistan. RCC-Afghanistan awarded a total of 13 contract actions for more than $4.3 million to combat COVID-19, providing critical supplies such as hand sanitizer, air purification filters, personal protective equipment and Food and Drug Administration approved rapid test kits to the Craig Hospital at Bagram Airfield, Role II hospital at the international airport and Role III hospital in Kandahar.
“RCC-Afghanistan is an exceptional organization that overcame adversity to enhance customer relationships and deliver contracting results to all mission partners across the CJOA,” said Brooks during the transfer of authority ceremony May 22. “It was my honor to serve as the RCC-A commander. There is a lot of talent on this team. Thank you for all the contributions you have made to the organization. I am extremely proud of the efforts to adapt and continue to deliver world class contracting support.”
Soldiers from the 919th CBN are returning home to their families in June after serving honorably on a 10-month deployment.