The menus from March 17 remain encased on the walls of the Camp As Sayliyah (CAS) Dining Facility (DFAC) as if time had stopped. That day, Soldiers and Airmen had packed the award- winning “Patton’s Own” DFAC as they had done so many times before; enjoying quality meals with their buddies and co-workers. The following day, servicemembers ate meals, ready to eat (MREs) outside the DFAC by themselves.
The world and the operating environment had changed with the onset of COVID-19. It compelled Area Support Group-Qatar (ASG-QA), the Regional Contracting Center-Qatar, and tenant units to reexamine every facet of operations and logistics.
COVID-19 response refers to operations designed to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak and reduce potential impacts to medical readiness and support to tenant unit missions. COVID-19 response became the framework through which leaders assessed the merits and risks of each mission, task, and sustainment function.
In the days that followed, the ASG-QA commander issued guidance to temporarily suspend services at the CAS DFAC; Post Exchange; fitness centers; and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation facilities. Every category of support came to an abrupt halt as leaders scrutinized requirements with a new element of risk: the possible spread of COVID-19 in our formations. Then something amazing happened when Soldiers took over base life support functions that had been contracted for decades. This ‘greening’ of sustainment started in the DFAC but soon extended to the post shuttle bus, water distribution, and other life support functions. The following is an account of the decision making, challenges, and best practices developed during the height of COVID-19 response in Qatar.
Background: From Desert Storm to Qatar Base Operations Support Services (Q-BOSS)
Following Desert Storm, the U.S. Army built up strategic capabilities in Qatar including Army Prepositioned Stock, U.S. Army Medical Materiel Command Southwest Asia, and Joint Tactical Air Ground Station. Many troops take rest and recuperation at CAS, and many even visited Doha while deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. With constraints on organic sustainment force structure, ASG-QA has always relied on contracted logistics; what we all now embrace as operational contract support. The Q-BOSS prime vendor since 2015 has consistently provided exceptional support with a large workforce of mostly other country national contractors that live in and around the city of Doha. It is important to note that Qatar is a very safe country. In fact, Global Finance Magazine ranked Qatar No. 7 in the 2019 Global Finance world safety index, sandwiched in between Norway and Singapore. Our contractors, DoD Civilians, and command-sponsored Families have always lived on the economy; it is part of the fabric of serving in Qatar. Living on the economy always made sense, until one day it didn’t.
Decision Making: Complicated to Complex
The gravity of the situation took hold early in the morning of March 17 when Qatari police cordoned off a massive 32-square-block industrial area adjacent to CAS. COVID-19 had rapidly spread to thousands of other-country nationals in their densely populated housing compounds. Seemingly overnight, ASG-QA no longer had access to its contracted DFAC workforce, food distribution prime vendor, and multiple subcontractors. Col. Stephen Fabiano, commander, ASG-QA, quickly made all Army bases in Qatar off-limits to non-mission-critical personnel (family members, DA Civilians, and contractors) in order to assess the situation and protect the force. With the commander’s guidance, Maj. Khadine Quashie, Q-BOSS administrative contracting officer (ACO), temporarily suspended contracted services, based in part on the Sovereign Act. which absolves the U.S. government from liability for damages so long as those acts are “public and general” and not taken merely to avoid contractual obligations. The legal ramifications aside, denying base access to non-mission-critical contractors created second and third-order effects that challenged leaders to rethink their tasks with a renewed sense of agility and resilience. Initially, Fabiano had to balance the risk to force (for which he was responsible) versus the risk to tenant unit missions presented by COVID-19, many of which were not under his purview. As he subsequently recalled, “Fortunately, our persistent efforts over time to foster relationships built on trust with tenant organizations made balancing these competing risks relatively easy.”
The U.S. Army Central (USARCENT) operational environment has long been complicated. Frequent deployments, major exercises, and the evolving geopolitical situation across the Middle East has kept units in the USARCENT footprint constantly engaged. As demanding as these deployments and missions have been, they were manageable because we had templated plans, processes, and systems against each problem set.
In his seminal book Team of Teams, retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal distinguishes between things that are complicated and those that are complex. COVID-19 changed the operating environment in Qatar from complicated and routine to complex and largely unknown. McChrystal’s thoughts on the nature of change are worth repeating. “Today’s rapidly changing world, marked by increased speed and dense interdependencies, means that organizations everywhere are now facing dizzying challenges, from global terrorism to health epidemics to supply chain disruption to game-changing technologies. These issues can be solved only by creating sustained organizational adaptability through the establishment of a team of teams.
An ACO’s Perspective
Adopting a Team of Teams approach Lt. Col. Mark Wolf, Q-BOSS lead contracting officer representative (COR), and Quashie drove the contracting change management process across the staff and tenant units. Weekly meetings with Michelle Talbot, Q-BOSS procurement contracting officer (PCO), and the contractor changed to daily battle rhythm events. Quashie issued over 40 ACO/PCO Q-BOSS letters of technical direction (LOTD) which temporarily changed, suspended, or limited services. The LOTDs allowed the ACO to provide direction to the contractor to quickly adapt to changing contract requirements and minimize non-essential contractors, a key metric in mitigating risk to the force. With a reduced contracted workforce, it soon became apparent that we would rely increasingly on organic capabilities; Soldiers ended up temporarily filling the gaps in food preparation and DFAC support, shuttle bus, and water distribution services.
Soldiers Step Up: ‘Greening’ of Contracted Logistics
Patrons of DFACs outside the continental U.S. can attest to the importance of the other-country national workforce. But what happens when the majority of those contractors are quarantined for an extended period of time? Sgt. 1st Class Tammy Aea, ASG-QA food service NCO in charge and COR, overcame this challenge with Soldiers. LOTD in hand, Aea reopened the DFAC on March 20 with a limited menu, consolidated kitchen workforce of four contracted food service supervisors and 12 Soldiers, including four food service specialists (92G). Limited food service entailed serving hot meals for breakfast and lunch and issuing meals ready-to-eat for dinner. All meals were served take-out due to capacity constraints and social-distancing protocols. Compounding the situation was the fact that Aea was quarantined for two weeks in downtown Doha upon returning from temporary duty in Germany. Limited food service would remain in effect for the next month.
Contractors Moved on Base to Preserve Logistics Capabilities
At some point the days stretched into weeks and a new normal set in. March became a distant memory; April served as a conduit to May and the return of blistering heat. Summer approached, but there would be no lifting weights in air conditioned gyms, no swimming, and no team sports or physical readiness training for that matter. Parts of CAS took on an eerie feeling of having been abandoned, especially during peak hours of the afternoon sun. Meanwhile, COVID-19 continued to spread on the economy despite the host nation’s aggressive efforts and excellent health care system. Other-country national housing compounds became the center of gravity in the fight against COVID-19. As the situation developed, it became apparent that billeting contractors on CAS would help ensure continuity of operations for mission critical functions—the power plant, fire and emergency services, Troop Medical Clinic, plumbing, and electricity. As one can imagine, moving hundreds of contractors on base (for the first time) came with its own set of challenges. Most of the issues that surfaced were common with the rotation of units, such as personal space, privacy, security, quiet hours, W-Fi access, cleaning of common areas, etc. Change of any consequence creates friction; moving contractors on base was no different, in this regard. Both Soldiers and contractors adjusted to the situation and learned to accommodate each other. Proactive communication and treating people, explicitly, with dignity and respect were essential to this transition. Our appreciation for these contractors grew as they gave up their familiar surroundings in Doha and moved onto CAS for the sake of the mission.
COVID-19 response changed Q-BOSS in ways that would have been hard to imagine only several months earlier. Contractors who lived on the economy for decades found themselves living on base alongside the Soldiers they served. Soldiers who had grown accustomed to a generous quality of life found themselves in a decidedly more austere environment. Tensions flared as the heat returned with a vengeance and stop-movement orders stretched deployments from 12 to 14 months. Commanders and leaders of all stripes recalibrated efforts with COVID-19 dominating the calculus. Resilient, high-trust relationships among subordinate and tenant units proved indispensable. Agility became a watchword as stakeholders quickly adjusted to a very fluid environment. Full dine-in food service resumed on May 20, nearly two months after the CAS DFAC shut its doors. A brightly colored menu greets patrons near the DFAC entrance, along with the unmistakable smells of grilled steak and crab legs—a favorite meal that service members had grown accustomed to from the days long before COVID-19.
Lt. Col. Mark D. Wolf serves as director of Logistics, Area Support Group-Qatar, Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar since 2018. He has a Master of Science in General Administration from Central Michigan University.
Maj. Rachelle Quashie, a native of Trinidad and Tobago, enlisted into the U.S. Army in 2000 as an automated logistics specialist (92A). Quashie received a commission as a Quartermaster Officer in November 2006. She holds a Master of Science in Management and Logistics Management from Florida Institute of Technology.
This article was published in the October-December 2020 issue of Army Sustainment.