By Daniel P. Elkins, Mission and Installation Contracting Command Public Affairs Office January 31, 2012
FORT BLISS, Texas -- Uniformed contracting officers training here as part of the two-week U.S. Army Contracting Command pre-deployment readiness exercise Joint Dawn 2012 are benefiting from a growing role by civilian contracting professionals.
The exercise is designed to develop Soldier acquisition skills necessary to meet mission needs in a joint environment downrange in a ramp-up to a deployment in support of the U.S. Central Command. Of the more than 250 participants in the exercise, 45 members from throughout the Mission and Installation Contracting Command can be found working alongside their counterparts from the Expeditionary Contracting Command and sister services in roles ranging from leadership positions to mentors and policy experts.
The teaming of civilian and uniformed acquisitions personnel to improve this training illustrates the growing importance of integration efforts already under way across MICC and ECC units.
"As we bring Soldiers more and more in contracting operations, it's essential that we integrate them with our civilian professionals who have grown up in contracting," said Brig. Gen. Joe Bass, commanding general for the Expeditionary Contracting Command. "Because these Soldiers will be asked to be contracting leaders when they go downrange, it's imperative that we all remain mindful that we're training future commanders."
In its third year, the number of uniformed contracting officers Joint Dawn prepares for deployment continues to grow. In 2010, 34 contracting officers were trained at Fort Riley, Kansas. That number jumped dramatically in 2011 to 115 who trained at Fort Campbell, Ky., which also saw an expansion in the use of civilian contracting professionals as mentors. This year's exercise includes 159 contracting officers in training and includes an increasing role for civilian experts.
Robert Ash is a procurement analyst in the customer support element at MICC's Mission Contracting Center-Fort Eustis, Va., who is serving as a mentor during Joint Dawn. He said working hand in hand with military counterpart allows acquisition challenges to be looked at from a variety of perspectives.
"My primary job here is to review contract files for areas where (trainees) can improve and streamline the things they do," he said. "This training is vital since many of us have different perspectives. Not only will it provide us a little better understanding, but it can also incorporate that into our training back home. If I can understand them better, I can train them better."
According to Daryl Hughes, a fellow mentor and contract administrator at the Mission Contracting Office-Fort Knox, Ky., the operational tempo trainees are experiencing during Joint Dawn in rapidly developing their basic contracting skill prove valuable both at war and in garrison.
"The number of requirements is what makes it a little more realistic, particularly if they get to the end of a fiscal year," said Hughes, who is providing guidance in a simulated regional contracting center. "It's not only helpful during a deployment but when they come back stateside."
For some MICC participants, the readiness training provides a more accurate understanding of training needs for Soldiers already integrated at MICC subordinate units throughout the nation.
"Since it's our responsibility to make sure the 51Cs are properly trained and learning simple acquisitions and some more complex acquisitions, we get to see a realistic combat environment and can help prepare them for their deployment," said Cathy Bella, the MICC principal assistant responsible for contracting from Fort Sam Houston, Texas, who is serving as a policy adviser. "Without the exercise, we just don't have that visual picture of what they're dealing with on a day-to-day basis."
Joint Dawn also serves as a measuring stick for training already under way for Soldiers in the MICC. Maj. Thomas Goerling, who is charged with leading one of the 16 simulated regional contracting centers here, believes the exercise is an excellent opportunity for military members to further build upon their contingency skills.
"A lot of trainees have deployed in their basic branch or in a non-contracting job. While we may have deployment experience and be familiar with the field environment, very few of us have deployed as a contracting officer before," Goerling said. "That's why we're here, to gain some semblance of this critical knowledge before we get over there."
Already supporting contracting functions for both contingency contracting teams and a MICC installation contracting office from his home station at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., Goerling agrees that the integration of civilians and other military services creates a more realistic training scenario.
"When overseas, you're going to be working with these same people. So to have that cross-reference and knowledge working with the other services and civilians, it's critical," he said. "Civilians have institutional and historical knowledge; they do contracting as their Army career path, so they generally have more years of experience. And in this particular career field, experience is everything."
Joint Dawn 2012 is broken down into five phases and kicked off at the conclusion of the 2011 exercise. The 904th Contingency Contracting Battalion at Fort Irwin, Calif., led the first phase, which consisted of an initial planning conference, site visit and establishment of working groups. It was during this planning phase that officials sought to replicate a more realistic joint scenario by incorporating previous lessons learned and seeking the involvement of contracting officers from the Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy Reserve as well as the Army National Guard and Reserve.
It moved into the second phase with the main body of participants arriving here Jan. 18 and 19 for warrior task training aimed to prepare contracting officers and some civilian employees for the physical rigors and dangers of deployment. This entailed weapons familiarization and qualification, survival training in the event of an attack on an armored vehicle, convoy operations training, and medical skills training for varying degrees of bodily injury.
"You can only replicate so much, but it's very realistic. Everything we went through was very key skills that could either save your life or save your battle buddy's life," said Goerling.
Participants then moved into the classroom for the third phase of training Jan. 25 to gain theater specific training. Trainees covered such topics as ethics, procurement fraud, media relations, paperless contract files, finance procedures, and policy.
The fourth phase got under way Jan. 28 and involved the application of learned skills from the classroom in an operational environment. In its fourth day today, this phase gives planners a genuine measure of training. MICC civilian employees and their uniformed counterparts are divided into 16 simulated joint regional contracting centers of approximately 10 contracting officers each to conduct a full range of contracting actions that are typical in a forward location, complete with role players.
"The number of requirements is what makes it a little more realistic, particularly if they get to the end of a fiscal year," Hughes said. "It's not only helpful during a deployment but when they come back stateside."
Bela agrees, "The workload is floor to ceiling every single day. For civilians to see that and understand it, they gain a better perspective to assist."
The fifth and final phase begins Feb. 2 and involves a post-exercise evaluation that will capture lessons learned for future exercises, the return of more than 250 participants to their home stations as well as an awards ceremony.
Although compact, uniformed contracting officers will leave Joint Dawn with a greater assurance in executing their acquisitions mission.
"In the end, we want contracting officers who are confident in their ability to survive on the battlefield, capable of using theater specific tools and authorities, and ready to excel with confidence in a joint contingency environment to support the warfighter," said to Col. Jeff Morris, commander of the 412th Contracting Support Brigade at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, who is running this year's readiness exercise.
"Every action, every type of contract, every scenario is something that we will likely run into but not necessarily in six days," Goerling said. "If you've seen it before then you have a better chance of dealing with it when happens for real."