Joint Contracting Field Training Exercise Provides Valuable Insights

By Charmaine Bottex

 

The 413th Contracting Support Brigade (CSB), Fort Shafter, HI, has made history by becoming the first CSB to conduct a Joint Contracting Field Training Exercise. The Pacific Contingency Contracting Disaster Training Exercise in December 2010 was based on Operation Unified Assistance, conducted after the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, and focused on providing contracting to a Joint Task Force formed to support the foreign disaster relief effort.

The exercise involved 39 U.S. Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, and civilians from the 413th CSB; the 647th Contracting Squadron from Hickam Air Force Base, HI; the Marine Corps Base Hawaii Regional Contracting Office; and the 1950th Contingency Contracting Team from the Hawaii Army National Guard. The U.S. Army Expeditionary Contracting Command (ECC) sent two mentors to train the 413th Headquarters, and the 410th CSB, Fort Sam Houston TX, and 411th CSB, Seoul, Korea, sent mentors to train the joint teams that functioned as Regional Contracting Centers.

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During the Joint Contracting Field Training Exercise, service members discussed and collaborated on contracting support during humanitarian contingency operations. From left: SSG Jamie Trice and CPT Susan Styer, 413th CSB; U.S. Air Force 2d Lt Brett Amerine; and U.S. Marine SSgt Erika Bonilla-Rubi. (U.S. Army photo by LTC Joshua Burris, 413th CSB Executive Officer.)

The design of the exercise reflected three goals:

  • To train for the CSB’s task to deploy and establish operational contract support command and control
  • To train teams to provide contingency contracting support while operating in an austere field environment
  • To test communication equipment and configurations at both the brigade and team levels

The four-day exercise began with welcoming remarks from COL Mike Hoskin, 413th CSB Commander, and a briefing from MAJ Ralph Barnes, contracting officer for the 410th CSB, on contracting lessons learned during Operation Unified Response in Haiti, the military’s relief effort after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Barnes was the first Contingency Contracting Officer (CCO) to arrive in Haiti. LTC(P) Tim Strange and MAJ(P) Maria Schneider from the ECC headquarters briefed the ECC contingency contracting expectations and the Request for Forces process, which was a brigade training objective.

RELYING ON A FULL SKILL SET
Throughout the exercise, the units operated in contingency areas with little or no support available in the immediate area. CCOs were forced to rely on their gamut of skills, including writing Standard Form 44 purchase orders and manual contracts, setting up a Procurement Defense Desktop network, practicing the procedure for ratifying unauthorized commitments, and setting up and using the Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) system for communication.

The team also trained on the Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker to monitor contractors’ movements on the battlefield. CCOs gained hands-on experience through multiple scenarios using the Army Contracting Command Proficiency Guide for Contracting Officers.

While the CCOs trained in basic contracting tasks, the 413th CSB staff worked several tasks, including producing Operational Contracting Support fragmentary orders, developing and implementing a deployed battle rhythm, reviewing and making recommendations on actions requiring approval from the head of the contracting activity, answering requests for information from ECC mentors who simulated the ECC staff, and updating information for an ECC commanders’ update brief.

The CSB’s S-6 tested the BGAN system for operability and suitability for the brigade and teams. The system is a global satellite Internet network for electronic transmission using portable terminals, which normally are used to connect a laptop computer to broadband Internet in remote locations. Unlike other satellite Internet services that require bulky satellite dishes to connect, a BGAN terminal is about the size of a laptop and can be carried easily.

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MAJ John M. Cooper (center) mentors contracting officers TSgt Amber J. Hale (standing), SFC Dawn Bryant (right), and TSgt Donald K. Shevlin during the Joint Contracting Field Training Exercise. (U.S. Army photo by LTC Joshua Burris, 413th CSB Executive Officer.)

LESSONS LEARNED
The exercise concluded with a briefing from a Pacific Command J-4 representative on Operation Unified Assistance and lessons learned from the humanitarian assistance mission.

A key lesson learned for contracting was the use of the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance Field Operations Guide when supporting the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The guide contains specifications for many types of commodities purchased for humanitarian assistance missions, such as plastic sheeting for shelters, collapsible water jugs, and human remains pouches. The briefing was an ideal bookend to Barnes’ briefing on Operation Unified Response at the start of the exercise, which opened with the CCO’s perspective and ended with that of the combatant command.

During the after-action review, all participants concluded that the joint training was beneficial and should be continued, to include interagency partners such as USAID in the next exercise. The CCO’s exposure to the proficiency tasks not commonly experienced in a Garrison Regional Contracting Office was invaluable. The staff’s exposure to ECC requirements during their support operations was useful in developing the standard operating procedure for the tactical operations center.

“We need to conduct this type of training in garrison to learn from our mistakes before attending a contingency,” said U.S. Marine SSgt Erika Bonilla-Rubi. “The fact that the exercise was a joint service exercise made it even better. I was able to see where I stand (knowledge-wise) in the contracting community compared to the other services, see what other services are doing better and how we can improve, and share my knowledge and suggest ways to improve how other services conduct business.”