BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- The 401st Army Field Support Brigade is unlike most other Army brigades because most of the workforce are contractors. Comprising nearly 90 percent of the workforce, contractors from around the world are focused on supporting the Warfighter and performing many tasks that were previously performed by Soldiers.

The 401st AFSB directly manages eight contracts that cover services from professional service augmentation, to communications to labor. Each contract and the employees of the contractor provide flexible solutions to requirements.

AC First is the largest contract managed by the 401st and it can be said that wherever there is a 401st presence, AC First is there. The contract began in 2005 with 194 employees to support what was then the 3rd Battalion, 401st Army Field Support Brigade at Bagram and the 401st which was then headquartered in Kuwait.

"As the structure grew, we started to grow with it," said Robert L. Shirron, AC First contract manager. "We're everywhere the 401st is."

Shirron said the AC First contract is primarily maintenance, supply and transportation, but people are surprised by the fact that they built a recreation center for their workforce and opened it to the entire 401st Bagram population, and that they expanded facilities near the Green Beans to serve as a gathering area for town hall meetings, movies, band performances and just a place to relax.

Challenges include getting repair parts and repair personnel where they are needed in a timely manner.

Shirron also noted getting some of the right skill sets are a challenge when there are highly technical requirements. Perhaps the biggest challenge he said is anticipating future needs and requirements.

Shirron noted that the AC First mission continues to grow. The vehicle maintenance mission is growing to support vehicle maintenance as far forward as possible.

Support capabilities cover the range of tactical vehicles with maintenance capabilities from the organizational level to near depot level work including battle damage, and refresh/refurbishment. The Allied Trades shops at Bagram and Kandahar have machine shops.

They also perform fire suppression system repair and refill at multiple locations.

The transportation mission is growing to support redistribution property assistance teams to receive, prepare and redistribute military equipment. They support and maintain a fleet of leased vehicles to include cranes that support RPAT missions and wash racks that are used to clean equipment being retrograded out of theater to required agricultural standards. Their master drivers conduct driver training and certifications for all equipment and vehicles.

"We have a good reputation for doing things outside the box," Shirron said. "We provide innovation in solutions to problems the Warfighter might face."

Special situations require specific solutions and one of those special situations resulted in the Allied Trades shop fabricating the Bastogne bumper for mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles. Shirron said units were encountering situations where they were required to push disabled MRAPs out of the way and they had no means to do it without damaging another vehicle. The resulting heavy-duty bumper solved that problem.

Another shop was approached recently to build wooden cradles to provide a stable platform for medical evacuation helicopters so critical repairs could be completed in theater. The wood shop delivered one set and almost immediately received an order for a second set.

The cradles meant that the aircraft could be repaired in theater in a matter of days instead of having to be flown back a depot in the United States which would have been more expensive and taken much longer. It may have also meant that lives were saved by keeping a critical asset in the fight.

Security is one of the most visible services AC First provides. Security force personnel provide 24-hour access control, physical security and early warning to 401st AFSB at designated locations. Their posture includes fixed locations, roving teams and camera-based surveillance.

A small percentage of the AC First workforce are Afghans who work in both skilled and unskilled trades. Shirron noted that AC First has a diverse workforce and they have a good record of people getting along.

"We've got guys who have been on this contract for seven years," Shirron said. "The perception is that contractors are here to make a profit; that's true for the company, but the individuals care about doing the job right."

He added that he is retired from the Army and his executive assistant is former military, as are many of the workforce.

"We know what it takes to wear the uniform," he said. "We're here to support the Warfighter and we're here to do it to the best of our ability."