Contracting Soldiers, Airmen to exercise joint operational capabilities
Contracting Soldiers from across the Mission and Installation Contracting Command are joining their Air Force counterparts June 21-25 to conduct the virtual 2021 Joint Forces Contracting Exercise and build a trained and ready joint force capable of delivering contracting support and contingency contracting effects during large-scale combat operations in a multi-domain environment. (Photo Credit: Daniel P. Elkins) VIEW ORIGINAL

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (June 16, 2021) -- Contracting Soldiers from across the Mission and Installation Contracting Command are joining their Air Force counterparts June 21-25 to conduct the virtual 2021 Joint Forces Contracting Exercise to build a trained and ready joint force capable of delivering contracting support and contingency contracting effects during large-scale combat operations.

The purpose of the 2021 Joint Forces Contracting Exercise, or JFCE-21, is to execute the force employment concept of deploying a joint regional contracting office to provide operational contract support to a combat-credible force in the deterrence of aggression against U.S. interests in key areas.

“We’re practicing our joint interoperability with the Air Force and eventually with all of sister services because it’s important that we be able to work with each other,” said Army Col. Joel Greer, the 418th Contracting Support Brigade commander at Fort Hood, Texas, who is directing JFCE-21.

He added that such training is important to ensure functioning at the lowest level of the contracting detachment following the Army’s fiscal 2020 approval of the Operational Contracting Force Design Update Junior concept. The FDU Jr. concept reorganized contracting teams into detachments organic to contracting battalions for greater flexibility in the distribution of support to aligned force headquarters.

“We need a lot of training at the CONDET level, and we need to conduct our deployments at that level to be effective. The key focus is if we train as a CONDET and work together as a CONDET, we have to deploy as a CONDET,” Greer said.

Serving as the deputy exercise director is Air Force Lt. Col. Peter O’Neill, the director of contracting for the Air Force Installation Contracting Center Operating Location-Air Mobility Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. The AFICC, a primary subordinate unit reporting to the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, is responsible for managing and executing acquisition solutions across the Air Force enterprise.

“Interoperability among the services is critical as the DOD pivots from counter insurgency to large-scale combat operations. Meeting the challenges we’ll face in the next conflict will require an understanding of how the other service incorporates contracting into operational planning and execution,” O’Neill said. “Additionally, the services have different organizational structures and training methodologies. The more we train together, the better we will be prepared as we integrate in the joint environment.”

Lt. Col. Justin DeArmond, the MICC deputy chief of staff for operations at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, said the commanding general for Army Contracting Command directed his command and the MICC in late 2020 to resurrect its joint training efforts with the Air Force by leveraging virtual platforms. Leaders from the MICC’s 418th CSB are serving as the exercise control group responsible for coordinating, resourcing and planning all facets of the exercise as well as providing oversight to ensure its success.

The JFCE-21 training audience includes Soldiers and Airmen at Fort Hood, JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Wright-Patterson, Shaw AFB, South Carolina, JB Charleston, South Carolina, and Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina. The exercise control group located at Fort Hood includes members from Fort Hood, Scott AFB, Illinois, JBSA-Randolph, JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, Fort Riley, Kansas, JB Lewis-McChord, Washington, Fairchild AFB, Washington, JB Andrews, Maryland, Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, Wright-Patterson, Goodfellow AFB, Texas, Buckley Space Force Base, Colorado, Robins AFB, Georgia, Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, and Eglin AFB, Florida.

Lt. Col. Marlon Elbelau, the 418th CSB officer in charge of future operations and lead planner for JFCE-21, said a thorough and deliberate planning effort is the foundation on which any successful exercise is built.

“Despite the fact that all integrated project teams and planning events were virtual, what made the JFCE-21 planning effort successful was the dedication and commitment from the whole team,” Elbelau said. “Remaining focused allowed the team to overcome challenges with not being co-located for planning events and ensuring that all are in synch.”

That team also includes representatives from the Defense Contract Management Agency, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for procurement office, Air Force, ACC and its subordinate brigades, and the MICC headquarters and its subordinate contracting brigades. The team’s goal is to incorporate a realistic, challenging operational environment that enables the assessment of learning objectives so that Army contracting detachments and Air Force subject matter experts can demonstrate their ability to deploy and operate.

Next week’s exercise scenario encompasses Army and Air Force contracting forces in the U.S. European Command area of responsibility as part of a larger deployment operation to conduct theater support contracting and contingency contracting administrative services. MICC officials said JFCE-21 also revalidates the capability of joint contracting enablers as a force multiplier to increase warfighter readiness, interoperability, flexibility and freedom of movement by leveraging commercial capabilities through contract support and contingency contracting administration services.

JFCE-21 serves as a continuation of lessons learned from past Operational Contract Support Joint Exercise, or OCSJX, training events and builds upon previous individual and collective understanding of operational contract support capabilities.

“It’s critical that we re-establish a tactical contracting exercise versus a strategic contracting exercise. OCSJX was strategically or operationally focused where JFCE is tactical and focused on the lowest contracting elements,” Greer said. “This will allow us to assess and improve our contracting skills and identify those gaps and deficiencies in the FDU Jr. model.”

The last OCSJX included all DOD services and the British Army and took place in March 2018. Elbelau said there are a handful of personnel on the JFCE-21 planning team who he had previously met during the last two OCSJX training events.

“The experiences and perspectives they brought to the planning sessions allowed us to get ahead of some of the issues we had to overcome,” Elbelau said. “Joint exercises have unique challenges such as different organizational processes, network and IT access, constant joint manning document changes, and integration of service component and other agency procurement processes and their impact on the master scenario events list design.”

Unlike previous training exercises, JFCE-21 is taking place in a virtual environment, presenting both benefits and obstacles.

“The major advantage of a virtual exercise is the ability for us to have multiple training locations while limiting travel challenges related to COVID-19, temporary duty costs, venue support, and the need for a larger support staff to properly receive participants and set them up for the exercise,” Elbelau said of leveraging collaboration platforms such as video conferencing to share presentations and broadcast training and mentoring sessions. “Executing JFCE-21 in a virtual environment limits demands on logistics, admin, IT and travel costs with the training predominantly using issued equipment and home station-owned facilities to participate in the exercise.”

He noted the disadvantages include the loss of opportunity for real-time collaboration across the whole formation, limited networking and relationship building, and the potential for network issues impacting communication and interaction between training locations.

Soldiers from the 419th CSB’s 900th Contracting Battalion at Fort Bragg are supporting JFCE-21 with one full contracting detachment as well as additional personnel combining with Airmen from the 4th Contracting Squadron at nearby Seymour-Johnson AFB to serve as a joint contracting detachment. Also among the training audiences are Soldiers from the 410th CSB at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston. Maj. Edgar Yu, team leader, said the skills and understanding gained through the joint contracting exercise will benefit his team with upcoming deployments.

“I truly hope my team is able to build cohesion, get trained and be ready to provide contracting support to Joint Task Force Bravo in Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, and any current contingency environment,” Yu said.

Elbelau agrees with the future benefit of the training and added that the exercise also affords the ability to test new concepts, tools and doctrine such as Army Techniques Publication 4-71, Contracting Support Brigade, and the Air Force’s business intelligence market research app.

“From a planning perspective and as a fellow 51C, I am glad that as contracting professionals, we again have the opportunity to participate in this type of training exercise where we network with other contracting personnel, gain experiences working for and with them, and conduct a tactical-level exercise where we train our junior Soldiers,” Elbelau said.

The JFCE-21 deputy director also outlined a few overall objectives he anticipates Airmen to take away from this exercise.

“We want to introduce our Airmen to the joint environment. Many have little experience dealing with other services. Understanding the Army’s terminology and structure now will enable them to hit the ground running when they deploy,” O’Neill said. “Next, our Airmen have been conducting contingency contracting officer training at home station using Air Force scenarios. Introducing them to new material will expand their horizons and improve their skills.

“Lastly, for the joint CONDETs, our CCOs will get the opportunity to work side by side with their Army counterparts. They will certainly cross paths in the future,” O’Neill said referring to his deployment with Elbelau to Bagdad in 2007. “We were familiar with each other’s strengths and weakness, so that enabled us to work well to plan this exercise. The relationships you foster now will pay dividends in future operations.”

About the MICC

Headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, the Mission and Installation Contracting Command consists of about 1,500 military and civilian members who are responsible for contracting goods and services in support of Soldiers as well as readying trained contracting units for the operating force and contingency environment when called upon. As part of its mission, MICC contracts are vital in feeding more than 200,000 Soldiers every day, providing many daily base operations support services at installations, facilitate training in the preparation of more than 100,000 conventional force members annually, training more than 500,000 students each year, and maintaining more than 14.4 million acres of land and 170,000 structures.