Since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, the U.S. government's reliance on contractors grew at an unprecedented rate. The U.S. continues to rely upon contractors for various logistics and operational support. As of 2016, one in four U.S. personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan was a private contractor. That number increases exponentially when Theater Support Contract, the locally sourced in-country contractors, are taken into account.Our military forces' freedom of action, operational reach, and prolonged endurance are dependent on the contractors' abilities to perform support services in today's operating environment. Despite the critical mission-enabling roles contractors have been performing on the battlefield for many years, Joint Task Force (JTF) planners struggle to incorporate contractors’ capabilities and limitations into the planning process, particularly in running estimates. This issue results from a lack of training and exposure to operational contracting in professional military education (PME) and the tactical and operational units' day-to-day operations. This article discusses critical elements of the procurement processes to consider during the tactical and operational levels of sustainment planning based on observations made during base closure operations in Syria. .Synergizing Contractor Capability into Military Operations On Oct. 7, 2019, the U.S. president issued an executive order directing the withdrawal of forces from Northeast Syria, commencing Operation Deliberate Resolve II (ODR II). Army Doctrine Publication 4-0, Sustainment, outlines steps to conduct theater closing. Closing operational contracts are part of that mission essential task list. The theater closing of the Syria area of operations (AOR) required local contractors to efficiently remove military assets from the remote bases in Syria. The incorporation of theater support contracts allows organic tactical and operational units to focus on other tasks essential to preserving combat power for future operations. For example, organic combat service support capabilities—like vehicle maintenance, food service, and fuel support—can be diverted to more austere or hostile territory when similar capabilities can be performed by the contractors.Concurrent contract support was also required to maintain base life support to sustain the influx of combat enablers coming into the AOR to support base-closing operations. It seems paradoxical to bring in more combat power to the theater when the base closing is occurring. However, enablers like engineers and transporters were critical to the proper destruction of key infrastructures on base and the move of military assets. Commercial contracts served a vital role during this operation. The contracted support allowed the coalition forces to move rapidly without constantly rotating sustainment forces in and out of the area. For example, commercial white truck convoys used during this operation were instrumental in completing the withdrawal on time while minimizing the abandonment and destruction of government property. Even though the closing of the Syrian theater resulted in resounding success, it was evident that the U.S. military still has room to grow on properly incorporating contracting in operations and sustainment planning across the joint warfighting function (WfF).Take away 1: Procurement Timeline ConsiderationsContract solution is an efficient way to balance the sustainment burden imposed on the commanders' organic capabilities. However, many planners fall into a common pitfall by not considering the acquisition timeline into the overall military decision making process (MDMP), based on the after-action reviews from the contracting teams that participated in various exercises, to include combat training center rotations, warfighter exercises (WfF), etc.Joint Publication (JP) 4-10, Operational Contract Support, illustrates that Operational Contracting Support Integration Cell (OCSIC) is organic to the JTF under the sustainment WfF. The primary purpose of OCSIC is to plan, coordinate, integrate, and assist in defining the end users' requirements and providing advice on all contract-related matters. One thing OCSIC cannot do, however, is start the procurement process. A typical procurement process begins when a complete, validated requirements packet comes to the regional contracting center (RCC). The RCC is responsible for executing and administering the contracts in their respective AOR. The procurement process consists of three phases, according to Army Contracting Command's procurement administrative lead time guidance: solicitation, evaluation, and award. While the overarching structure of the procurement process is similar across the Department of Defense, the individual sub-steps involved in the three phases can be different depending on the complexity of the requirement that dictates the longevity of the procurement process. The decision to conduct hasty versus deliberate has a tremendous impact on planning and managing the procurement timeline. Deliberately planned base closure operations lead to adequate contract support, allowing the contracting officer to have sufficient time to conduct the market research and create an accurate acquisition strategy that is essential to base closing operations. It is also beneficial for the contractor as he or she can provide a detailed proposal while giving enough time to mobilize his or her employees.Sometimes the situation doesn't allow for deliberate planning and the JTF needs to resort to hasty planning efforts. Hasty planning without the OCSIC and RCC involvement forces contracting officers and the requiring activity to circumvent the procurement process and reduce the timeline, which could pose significant contract risks. These risks include contracting with improperly vetted vendors, wrong items showing up, and illegitimate competition that could result in vendor protest. All of these issues inadvertently desynchronize operations. The requiring activities need to understand what the procurement process looks like with their aligned RCC and incorporate the procurement timeline into their planning process.Take away 2: Weighing Operational and Contractual RisksJTF planners often plan on identifying and mitigating operational risk throughout the operations. However, when incorporating contract solutions into the joint planning process, there needs to be an analysis of how the contracting process risks impact operational risk. JP 4-10 illustrates the contract planning risks that impact operational risk but doesn't detail how the procurement process itself affects operations. For example, the period of performance for the commercial line-haul contract utilized during the steady-state operations in northern Iraq coincidently concluded around the time the President ordered to close bases from Northeast Syria. To eliminate the risk of contracted trucks being unavailable, JTF planners urged to extend the contract with the incumbent contractor without recompeting for the new contract. Although this method would've been expedient and would've alleviated the concern for a break in service, mainly due to mobilization of the new contractor, the risk for vendor protest was largely ignored. Vendor protest is defined as a written objection by an interested party to a solicitation, cancellation of the solicitation, and an award or proposed award of the contract. A filed protest means the contracting officer must immediately suspend performance per federal acquisitions regulations. In the case of base closure operations, this would've incurred significant operational delays and risks, where recompeting the requirement would've been more desirable. Operational units must acknowledge that contracts formed hastily don't always result in an expedient contract solution and could unnecessarily jeopardize the mission.Contractual risk can also impact operations by treating contractors like down trace units. Contractors will primarily have their business interests in mind and take every opportunity to better position themselves for negotiation. Planners always need to factor that contractors can and will say "no" to a requirement if the mission conducted by our forces doesn't align with their business model. Commanders and planners must invest resources in creating a robust commercial market system in their AOR and make running estimates on the type of commodities (supplies and services) that exist at every opportunity. Creating branch and sequel plans on the available market system is also a critical consideration. The information developed during this process can now be incorporated into the sustainment common operating picture. This allows the planners to prioritize the utilization of organic assets to deliver critical supplies against what can be sourced locally from a diverse pool of contractors.Take away 3: Incorporating Contract Oversight into Annex WContract oversight is a vital function of the overall operationalized contracting process. Units tend to rely heavily on buying the supply or service and neglect administration of the contract once the goods are delivered or services have been rendered. A lack of emphasis on contract administration poses a significant operational risk and can impact future operations. For example, when planning for hasty base closures during ODR II, consideration for the contractors' equipment retrograde wasn't adequately coordinated. There were systems in place from the OCSIC and regional contracting offices to track the contracts awarded but they didn't capture contractors' equipment, contractor's use of government furnished property, and other contract performance data. Without the data, the U.S. government was not able to distinguish what was lost, abandoned, or destroyed during the closure process, severely jeopardizing the negotiation position for the termination settlement with the contractors. A disadvantageous negotiation position not only results in a disproportionate settlement cost but can also result in depriving funds of the local commanders, hindering his or her operational reach.The requiring activity must fully integrate contracting officer representatives (CORs) on the ground through the formal orders process to properly incorporate contract management interests into the operations. Directing the CORs to conduct actions on behalf of the contracting officer is critical to realize favorable outcomes and preserve the best interests of the U.S. government through base closure operations. Contracting specific tasks and information requests need to be fully integrated into the orders process, creating a reliance on substantial additional coordination at the individual level that can be relied upon to account for contract supported services and interests. JTF-level OCSIC, in coordination with the RCC, needs to ensure contracting specific tasks and information requests are in the operations orders. This measure effectively postures contracting enablers to support operations through Annex W, Operational Contract Support, and reflects specific contracting tasks based on the results of MDMP.Moving ForwardThe requiring activities must consider properly allocating resources toward operationalized contracting in terms of time and personnel. The contracting support brigades are significant combat enablers, but the limitations on staff has them focused on creating contracts that are compliant with applicable laws. As the owner of the requirement, it is imperative to shape the battlefield and develop the market to create a conducive business environment with the local vendors. This will create more sustainment options for the commanders to choose from, which will then allow flexibility and changes to operations that are tailored to the operating environment.The OCSIC should do more than organize and manage emerging requirements. ODR II was successful because of the OCSIC’s continued involvement with the rest of the staff in Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve. Giving OCSIC an active role in the operations process will result in creating contract running estimates on how the contractors and local commercial markets will yield a positive impact on the battlefield. It is important to remember that contracted support is not a ‘fire-and-forget’ means of support; significant planning and time management have to be dedicated to ensure that adequate support is received.The acquisition process can be seen as extraordinarily bureaucratic and strenuous.It doesn't have to be. Having a shared understanding along with robust communication between the OCSIC, requiring activity, and contracting professionals is crucial to success and leads to stress-free procurement.---------------------------Maj. James Ko currently serves as leader of 625th Contracting Team, 902nd Contracting Battalion, based in Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. Ko served as the contract operations officer-in-charge for Regional Contracting Center-Operation Inherent Resolve during a deployment from June 2019 to March 2020.. In 2016, Ko transitioned to the Army Acquisition Corps. His acquisition assignments include serving as a contract management officer, contracting officer, and contracting team lead. Ko is certified in contracting, Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act, Level II.. He earned a bachelor's degree in economics from Eastern Washington University and is pursuing a Master of Business Administration degree from University of Maryland-Global Campus.