Contracting Experts Help Build Future Acquisition Leaders

By Daniel P. Elkins

Uniformed contracting officers (KOs), training at the U.S. Army Contracting Command (AAC) pre-deployment readiness exercise Joint Dawn 2012,  benefited from a growing role by civilian contracting professionals.

The exercise, conducted Jan. 19-Feb. 3 at Fort Bliss, TX, is designed to develop the Soldier acquisition skills necessary to meet mission needs in a Joint environment downrange, in a ramp-up to a deployment supporting the U.S. Central Command. Of the more than 250 participants in the exercise, 45 members from throughout the U.S. Army Mission and Installation Contracting Command (MICC) worked alongside their counterparts from the U.S. Army Expeditionary Contracting Command (ECC) and sister services in roles ranging from leadership positions to mentors and policy experts.

The teaming of civilian and uniformed acquisition personnel to improve this training illustrates the growing importance of integration efforts underway 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 BG Joe Bass, ECC Commanding General. “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.”

Expanded Integration 

Joint Dawn, in its third year, prepares a growing number of uniformed KOs for deployment. In 2010, 34 KOs were trained at Fort Riley, KS. That number jumped dramatically in 2011 to 115 who trained at Fort Campbell, KY; at the same time, the exercise expanded the use of civilian contracting professionals as mentors. This year’s exercise includes 159 KOs in training.

Robert Ash, a procurement analyst at MICC’s Mission Contracting Office Fort Eustis, VA, who served as a mentor during Joint Dawn, reviewed participants’ contract files for improvement.   “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 [military counterparts] 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 that trainees experienced during Joint Dawn in developing their basic contracting skills will 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 provided 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 provided a more accurate understanding of training needs for Soldiers already integrated at MICC subordinate units.

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U.S. Army Contracting Command employees participate in Joint Dawn 2012 engagement skills training, including weapons simulation, sustainment marksmanship, and shoot/don’t shoot training. (U.S. Army photo)

“Since it’s our responsibility to make sure the 51Cs [contracting NCOs] 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, TX, who served 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 served as a measuring stick for training already underway for Soldiers in the MICC. MAJ Thomas Goerling, who was in charge of leading one of the 16 simulated regional contracting centers, believes the exercise was an excellent opportunity for military members to further build upon their contingency skills and gain some “semblance of critical knowledge” before deploying as a KO.

“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.

Goerling, who supports contracting functions for both contingency contracting teams and a MICC installation KO from Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD, agreed 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 is 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 Approach 

Joint Dawn 2012 consists of five phases and kicked off at the end of the 2011 exercise. The 904th Contingency Contracting Battalion at Fort Irwin, CA, led the first phase which included 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 KOs from the U.S. Army Reserve, Army National Guard, the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Naval Reserve, and the U.S. Air Force.

In the second phase, the main body of participants arrived for warrior task training to prepare KOs 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 [represented] 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 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 involved the application of learned skills from the classroom in an operational environment. MICC civilian employees and their uniformed counterparts were divided into 16 simulated joint regional contracting centers of approximately 10 KOs each to conduct a full range of contracting actions that are typical in a forward location.

The fifth and final phase involved a post-exercise evaluation that captured lessons learned for future exercises, as well as an awards ceremony.

The Takeaway 

Although Joint Dawn was compact, uniformed KOs left with a greater assurance in executing their acquisition missions.

“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 COL Jeff Morris, Commander of the 412th Contracting Support Brigade, Fort Sam Houston, TX, who ran 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.”

ANNUAL PRE-DEPLOYMENT EXERCISE ATTRACTS JOINT PARTICIPATION 

 

By David San Miguel

“The simulations were real; the sounds were real. I left there feeling that I could actually save someone’s life,” said CPT Gina Ferguson, 634th Contingency Contracting Team, Fort Riley, KS, of the training she received during the Joint Dawn 2012 exercise at Fort Bliss, TX, Jan. 19-Feb 3.

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Joint Dawn 2012 practice convoy operations use the Close Combat Tactical Trainer’s Reconfigurable Vehicle Simulator. This training provides a realistic reconnaissance or convoy environment featuring a three-dimensional view and accurate weapon systems. (U.S. Army photo)

Ferguson is among more than 250 military and civilian contracting officers who participated in the U.S. Army Contracting Command (AAC) pre-deployment joint readiness exercise.

The exercise is designed to enhance the ECC’s mission of providing contracting support to Army and other DoD organizations operating OCONUS, said COL Jeff Morris, Commander of the 412th Contracting Support Brigade at Fort Sam Houston, Joint Base San Antonio, TX, part of the Expeditionary Contracting Command (ECC).

Now in its third iteration, Joint Dawn has expanded to include participation by military and civilian contracting officers from the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Marine Corps, as well as the Army National Guard and the U.S. Army Reserve.

Including the other services more fully exposes participants to how they will operate in a joint contingency environment to support the warfighter, Morris said. “This is a pre-deployment exercise geared toward deployment into the CENTCOM [U.S. Central Command] theater of operations working with the CENTCOM Contracting Command,” he explained.

In addition, the exercise includes combat engagement skills training; Mine Resistant Ambush Protected, vehicle rollover egress; tactical combat casualty care; weapon systems familiarization; and virtual battle-space simulation. Other scenarios challenge participants to ensure their technical proficiency to execute their contracting mission. This includes purchase requests and commitments, closeout actions, commander’s critical information requirements; contracting ethics issues; and simulated confrontations with disgruntled customers.

CDR Michael Curran from the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Acquisition and Procurement, added that this was the first time the Navy was invited to participate.

“The Navy and Army have very different cultures,” he said. “This exercise is a great opportunity to train and learn how the Army conducts its contracting business to ensure that the warfighter is getting the best that we can provide.”

Ferguson agreed. “It starts building teamwork here and gives us the confidence we need to go into theater and to work with someone we’re not normally familiar working with,” she said.


  • DANIEL P. ELKINS is Deputy Director of Public Affairs for MICC. He has served more than 23 years in support of public affairs for the Army and the Air Force. Elkins holds a B.S. in communications from Louisiana Tech University and an M.A. in communications from St. Mary’s University.
  • DAVID SAN MIGUEL is a Writer/Editor for the U.S. Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal, AL. An award-winning military journalist, he retired from the Army Reserve in 2005. Sam Miguel has attended multiple universities and colleges, including the University of Maryland, the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Jacksonville State University, Cochise College, and Emory College.