By Mr. Larry D Mccaskill (ACC )September 22, 2009
The 410th Contract Support Brigade's participation in PANAMAX 09 grows each year and this year was no exception as the unit's headquarters, the Expeditionary Contracting Command, deployed from Fort Belvoir, Va. to Fort Sam Houston, Texas to also participate.
PANAMAX is an annual exercise involving military and interagency personnel from various European, North, Central and South American countries focusing on the defense of the Panama Canal. This exercise expands the range of planning and operations in a multinational, multilingual headquarters and tests the ability of the exercise coalition to conduct combat operations, disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, according to a U.S. Army South press release.
The intent of ECC and the 410th is to establish a joint contracting command to provide expert and responsive acquisition support to Multinational Forces-South. The JCC and subordinate and regional contract offices will fully integrate into the operational functions of their supported elements and provide planning assistance.
The exercise scenario was simple. There is unrest and a coupe in a small Central American nation called "Centralia." The terrorists are intimidating the locals through various acts of violence including murder. Their constant attacks threats, along with its close proximity to the Panama Canal has made it necessary for the United Nations to step in and stop the tyrannical actions of the terrorists.
As part of the exercise, U.S. Southern Command stood up a joint contracting center to support the MNF-S and leveraged the 410th CSB. The 410th formed the nucleus of the Joint Contracting Command - South. "
Of all the service (contracting) components in the SOUTHCOM area of focus, we have the most robust command and control organization," said Col. Ted Harrison, 410th CSB commander. "A lot of their operational plans call for leveraging the 410th for operational command and control and operational contract support planning for the joint force commander."
During the exercise, Harrison said the locations of the contracting supporting teams were spread out, physically and notionally to support air, maritime and land forces.
"It gives us an opportunity to operate in a deployed joint environment. This year we're deployed to the other side of San Antonio in the national country of Centralia. Last year we deployed to El Salvador," Harrison said. "It also provides an opportunity to interface with our supported unit and provide operational contracting planning in a mission scenario."
Harrison said exercises such as PANAMAX 09 provide an opportunity to train units his brigade supports on ways to better employ operational contracting support as well as showcase what operational contracting brings to the force and additional capabilities. It also gives them an opportunity to factor in contractors on the battlefield.
"They are a big asset but they also create challenges for command and control (C2) logistical support," Harrison said.
One exercise inject included a missing contractor. Harrison said in today's deployment environment that is a reality that has to be addressed.
"Multiply the possibility of one missing by a thousand for places like Iraq and Afghanistan where you have more than 180, 000 contractors deployed, in some areas more than the military," Harrison stated. "Support requirements for what they need as well as having situational awareness to what they are doing are vital to that area commander."
"It's important that we support these exercises because they prepare us in readying ourselves to provide that same support to our war fighters during real world operations," said Sgt.Maj. Douglas Adams, 410th CSB sergeant major. "Going through these drills enables us to better identify the types of requests we would receive in these situation. We take the lessons learned from previous exercises and try to improve and increase our footprint each year."
During PANAMAX 09 the 410th staff has been primarily military, using their civilian staff as reach back support. This was due partially because the exercise is executed during the last month of the fiscal year when the brigade is also focused on supporting year end budget execution. That would if the exercise were conducted earlier in the year.
"We need to pull more civilians into exercise," Adams said. "Currently we have a few civilians participating in the exercise from G1 and G4 (personnel and logistics), and the LOGCAP representative. I see us expanding that with a few additional team members in the areas of contract policy and contract assessment."
A joint operation, the joint contracting team included a U.S. Air Force senior master sergeant and a U.S. Navy commander and others.
"It's extremely important to train in a joint operation environment," said Navy Cdr. Larry Kolb, a naval reservist who was involved in last year's exercise. "These exercises are critical in ensuring we know how to operate as a joint organization."
According to Harrison, the exercise was also an opportunity for ECC to exercise their staff processes and deployment procedures, and allowed ECC to simulate its transition of authority from a CSB when a mission became larger than the brigade could handle. He also wanted to ensure his brigade accomplished a few things by the end of the exercise that could carry over to next year's exercise.
"We went into this exercise with a couple of specific training goals. One was to establish a good RSOI (reception, staging, onward movements and integration) process. The other was to do a better job of managing contractors on the battle field," he said. "For the first time we've implemented the SPOT system (Synchronized pre-deployment and operational tracker). It's a database that is used for personnel accountability. And we wanted to increase the number of mission events scenarios and be able not to just interface with our supported units but go through the order process that involves contractors on the battlefield. I think we accomplished all our goals and next year we will have even more."