Sustainers have never had a master gunner of their own until now. At the sound of the term or the sight of the phrase master gunner, a traditional Army Soldier envisions a senior NCO at the helm of a training exercise, steering the organizational readiness to operational vigilance. A contracting master gunner is no different. Rather than weapons systems and battle drills, the contracting master gunner readies the force to achieve mission success with technological acquisition systems and rehearses reactionary measures to overcome challenges in the area of operation. Among the NCOs in a formation, the contracting master gunner stands out with a significantly higher depth and breadth in contracting execution and contracting support. As the backbone of the Army, NCOs absorb the immediate internal effects during each step the organization takes toward mission success.
Above all else, the training completed and designation earned by a master gunner empowers the NCO to advise commanders and impact the organization with expert tactical knowledge. The insights a master gunner provides mesh the ground truth of the mission with the command team’s guidance and direction to synthesize a course of action with all variables considered. Contracting operations adapt and evolve as operational and mission variables shift in the complex environment during crises, conflict, and competitive events. As such, contracting units must align their focus and effort on the critical gaps of logistics and organic support to provide commercial contracting solutions to the other warfighting functions.
The Army Contracting Command (ACC) is committed to delivering optimal performance in commercial support for military operations by implementing effective methods for operational contracting support. At the operational level, contracting support brigades (CSBs) and contracting centers provide joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational support for the six warfighting functions. The ACC has CSBs, typically composed of geographically dispersed contracting battalions and contracting detachments, to deliver solutions through aligned support to a theater Army, field Army, and Army Corps. Each brigade executes theater support contracts, administers external support contracts, and coordinates systems support contracting in conjunction with other sustainment enterprise partners.
In 2015, then Col. Douglas Lowrey and Command Sgt. Maj. Rocky Carr of the 409th CSB developed the Contracting Master Gunner program to address the challenge of objectively measuring a contracting professional’s technical readiness at an individual level. The program fills a critical gap in measuring individual technical readiness, which is difficult without an expert in all weapon systems. Contracting professionals’ weapon systems are crucially situated at the intersection of logistical needs and commercial capabilities, making it imperative to develop a program focusing on individual technical readiness led by contracting weapon systems experts. Initially, the command team selected and trained members of the Fighting 409th CSB as contracting master gunners to validate individual technical readiness throughout all echelons of their organization. Its success prompted the program’s ideas to be expanded to other contracting organizations throughout the Army. Lowrey, now a brigadier general and the Mission and Installation Contracting Command (MICC) commanding general (CG), prioritized bringing the program to an enterprise level. As a result, a handful of select NCOs redesigned the Contracting Master Gunner program over several months, building upon the original program executed by the 409th CSB in Germany. The MICC CG selected these NCOs based on their performance and technical expertise in contracting support and Army operations.
The current Contracting Master Gunner program also aims to validate technical expertise through course material focused on the tactical execution of contracting support efforts. The MICC at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, hosts the course twice a year. For continuity, the original instructors have continually assessed the performance and input alums brought to the development of the program. The top performers from previous classes train and certify as instructors and facilitate future iterations of the course.
Command teams nominate and submit their prospective students for consideration. Course administrators select students based on experience and knowledge; not everyone gets selected or passes the course. Each course is two weeks long with nine days of instruction and three culminating events: a written test, an external evaluation design brief, and a proposed unit training strategy brief. When creating their unit training strategy, the students take their commanders’ real-world training priorities and upcoming missions to develop a strategy for the next year of events.
Today, contracting master gunners are in every CSB and several contracting centers in the Army. They are crucial in advising commanders on contract execution and contracting support. They also identify everyone’s technical and experiential deficiencies and formulate an approach to enhance both by advising command teams on training opportunities. The Contracting Master Gunner program has been instrumental in identifying and addressing knowledge and experience gaps in the contracting workforce. The program provides training and support to contracting officers, contracting specialists, and other members of the contracting workforce. This includes training on relevant topics such as the optimal use of contracting systems, commercial industry trends, contracting regulations, procurement procedures, data analytics, and organizational management and readiness. Insights made available by a contracting master gunner to a command expedite contracting solutions to complex problems.
Furthermore, the program has improved contracting support’s overall efficiency and effectiveness. By identifying individual technical deficiencies, contracting master gunners develop individualized training plans that address specific knowledge gaps. This tailored approach to training is highly effective in improving individual technical readiness, ultimately leading to enhanced contracting support performance through increased organizational competence, capacity, and capabilities. The results are clear: increased individual technical readiness increases organizational technical readiness and ensures contracting organizations remain vigilant to support military operations worldwide.
The Contracting Master Gunner program has also supported the Army’s mission to modernize its contracting processes. As the Army seeks to modernize its contracting systems and processes, the Contracting Master Gunner program has been instrumental in ensuring contracting professionals are trained and prepared to operate within these new systems. This includes training on new contracting technologies, such as electronic procurement systems and data analytics tools. Beyond the traditional data query to identify executed stats and pending actions, contracting master gunners analyze data to provide the foresight to prescribe the best courses of action to overcome upcoming challenges. They accomplish this by implementing tactical shifts to address strategic issues. By way of the master gunner alum network, commanders can prompt their local master gunner with a problem set and receive a collective response from the entire network. Not only does the commander receive a custom solution, but the body of knowledge in the network increases. The increased exposure to global concerns aids in the continuous development of contracting professionals in alternate locations.
Finally, the Master Gunner program fosters and enforces a culture of continuous improvement within the contracting community. By emphasizing and energizing the importance of individual technical readiness, the program instills a sense of responsibility and persistence among contracting professionals to pursue advancements in their knowledge and skills. As Soldiers and civilians prepare for upcoming missions and deployments, they can tap into a knowledge repository of trained professionals with the charge to guide and mentor those contracting professionals to victory. This has resulted in a contracting workforce that is more proactive in seeking out training and development opportunities, which has led to improved overall readiness and effectiveness.
In conclusion, the Contracting Master Gunner program has been pivotal to the Army’s contracting operations, ensuring trained and prepared contracting professionals support the dynamic and complex challenges of the field. As ACC and the acquisition process continue to evolve and adapt to new challenges, the Contracting Master Gunner program exemplifies the importance of innovation and adaptation in ensuring the Army remains ready to support and sustain military operations worldwide.
Sgt. Maj. Lloyd Cueto currently serves as the operations sergeant major for the Mission and Installation Contracting Command. He previously served as the contracting support plans and operations NCO in charge of the 414th Contracting Support Brigade. He is a doctoral candidate through a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Incarnate Word.
Master Sgt. Payten Redfearn currently serves as the G-3/5 (Strategic Concepts) NCO in charge for Army Contracting Command. He previously served as the senior enlisted advisor for the Theater Contracting Center — Southwest Asia. He has completed all levels of the Non-Commissioned Officer Education System through the Master Leaders Course. He has a Master of Business Administration from Post University, Connecticut.
This article is published in the Fall 2023 issue of Army Sustainment.