COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: 928th Contracting Battalion, 409th Contracting Support Brigade
TITLE: Contracting specialist
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 8 months
MILITARY OR CIVILIAN: Military
YEARS OF MILITARY SERVICE: 18 years
EDUCATION: MBA in management, Wayland Baptist University; B.A.S. in management, Wayland Baptist University
AWARDS: Air Force Achievement Medal (1996), Joint Service Achievement Medal (1999), Army Commendation Medal (2015), Bronze Star Medal (2016), Meritorious Service Medal (2019), Joint Meritorious Unit Award (2020), Defense Meritorious Service Medal (2021)
Capt. Ismael Velez
by Teresa Mikulsky Purcell
For Capt. Ismael Velez, being the most junior acquisition professional in the 928th Contracting Battalion (CBn) at the U.S. Army Garrison in Grafenwoehr, Germany, has its challenges. But this 46-year-old contracting specialist is not daunted because he faced obstacles just as big on his road to becoming a commissioned officer.
Right out of high school, Velez enlisted in the Air Force, serving eight and a half years. He left to care for his ill parents in San Antonio, Texas, and took a civilian job as an accountant for an international travel agency, while remaining in the National Guard. Fast forward 10 years. Velez realized that his accounting career was stalling, so he decided to reignite his military career and join his brother in the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at the University of Texas-San Antonio, and resolved to complete his military service as a commissioned officer.
At this point, Velez signed an age waiver to reenter military service, but kept his accounting job to support his wife and family—fulfilling his ROTC requirements before and after working hours and on weekends. As if that was not enough, he simultaneously pursued an MBA through Wayland Baptist University. During this time, he missed many activities with his children and wife, who is also a former airman, and credits them for making his accomplishments possible and worth the sacrifice.
In 2012, the Army commissioned Velez ceremoniously in front of 30,000 fans at the Alamodome right before the kickoff of the All-American Bowl. He then headed to his first assignment at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, and served internationally in Afghanistan, Egypt and Germany, realizing his desire to make a direct, positive impact on fellow Soldiers.
As he progressed through his Army career, most of which focused on logistics, Velez realized that the times he would spend interacting directly with Soldiers would diminish as he moved into staff positions. “I first learned of the acquisition functional area as a junior lieutenant,” he said. “I always read articles about the field and asked senior officers about opportunities in contracting. What intrigued me most was the impact contracting has on Soldiers and the force, ensuring the Army’s most valuable asset is prepared and supported to execute in current and future missions. I knew that, while not directly working with Soldiers, my actions and contributions in the acquisition field would impact many more Soldiers than I could reach as a staff officer.”
So when he had the chance, he pursued his current position as a contracting specialist in the 928th CBn at the Grafenwoehr U.S. Army Garrison, which has a primary mission to support and enable the readiness of its tenants and other NATO nations, as well as provide operational contract solutions for the U.S. Army Europe and Africa area of responsibility and the Bavarian regional military community.
“My wife and I were Army brats, and we were in Germany with our fathers as kids,” he said. “We also were in Germany as airmen, and we wanted to come back because we love it—the countryside, food, culture, castles, festivals and history.”
Velez has an important role. He provides contracting support to tenant and rotational units at the Grafenwoehr garrison, developing life support contracts for food services, latrines, tents, heaters, showers, laundry—everything troops need to sustain their lives. With the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the installation’s current focus is on preparing and staging the theater for U.S. forces transitioning through Germany en route to forward operating locations throughout Europe.
He also supports garrison exercises and missions and oversees contractual support requirements for Greece, Turkey and the Republic of Georgia. Velez said that Georgia is a relatively new operating area for the 928th CBn in terms of contractual support. He serves as the lead contract specialist and officer in charge for Georgia and Turkey, and heads contract planning for the Noble Partner 2022 biennial exercise scheduled later this year. This exercise is a joint Georgian Defense Force and U.S. Army Europe effort designed to enhance Georgian, regional partner, and U.S. force readiness and interoperability in a realistic, multinational training environment. In coordination with the contracting officer, Velez initiates, executes and oversees contracts throughout the country across various training areas and ports and supports troop movement and life support systems.
Ultimately, Velez’s work culminates in formal contracts. “Based on individual perceptions of regulations, there are different ways to achieve that end result,” he said. “I am learning the left and right limits of the Federal Acquisition Regulations and discovering where to operate within the moral, ethical and legal confines of them to fulfill customer requirements.”
He tackles this learning curve by continuously researching the acquisition career field, reading a lot of related material, and “trying to be a sponge to soak in as much knowledge from my contracting peers as possible,” he said. According to Velez, the 928th CBn is the best place to learn because, unlike other organizations, it operates as a lateral or flat organization with think tanks that facilitate idea sharing between various military and civilian offices. “The knowledge in this unit is immeasurable and invaluable in providing newly assessed acquisition professionals with direction and instruction on how to better serve our customers.” Velez also focuses on understanding the business practices that drive the process and how to handle issues through critical thinking, perseverance and business savvy to provide customers with commodity options to fill requirement gaps and, ultimately, complete missions successfully.
Velez’s goal is to become a knowledgeable, well-rounded contracting officer with the ability to provide customers with sound business advice and “to have a qualified seat at any planning table where contracting and acquisition strategy is required,” he said. “In the next five years, I aim to get my certification under the new ‘Back-to-Basics’ construct for credentialing that will allow me to focus on different aspects of acquisition other than contracting, such as supply and program management.” In addition, he plans to become well versed in operational and contingency contracting and serve as a contracting detachment officer in charge. “I also want to branch into contracting for other organizations, such as the Army Corps of Engineers or Defense Contract Management Agency,” he said.
These are big goals, but Velez is intent on achieving them, and if his history is any indication, he will. “The most important lesson I have learned in my career is to apply yourself to the task or job at hand with honesty, open mindedness, and a willingness to take constructive criticism. With this approach, I believe you can create an environment in which you can achieve professional growth successfully.”
“Faces of the Force” is an online series highlighting members of the Army Acquisition Workforce through the power of individual stories. Profiles are produced by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center Communication and Support Branch, working closely with public affairs officers to feature Soldiers and civilians serving in various AL&T disciplines. For more information, or to nominate someone, please go to https://asc.army.mil/web/publications/army-alt-submissions/.