Hanscom officer excels in non-traditional role

  • Published
  • By Capt. Paul Norris
  • Afghanistan Ministry of Defense Acquisition Agency advisor
Capt. Stephen Gray, a cost chief for the Battle Management Directorate's Aerial Ground Surveillance System Division, embraced the non-traditional roles required of today's deployed Airmen during a recent deployment to Afghanistan. Instead of performing traditional financial management officer duties, he was at the forefront of transitioning new capabilities to the Afghan National Army.

"About a month and half before I left, I found out I had to attend ten weeks of combat advisory training at Fort Polk, Louisiana," said Captain Gray. "It was at this point I realized I wouldn't be doing a traditional financial management deployment."

In this unique mission, Captain Gray was a convoy commander, he overcame language and cultural barriers and deciphered foreign financial laws.

While in the AOR, Captain Gray logged more than 200 convoys. He consumed countless cups of chai while building relationships with the Afghan brass. He researched more than 100 articles on Afghan procurement law, searching for more economic and efficient ways for the Afghans to supply the national army, and advised on more than 300 contracts.

Captain Gray's journey began in March 2010 with two months training at Fort Polk. As a flight commander, he led a team of twelve Airmen through combat adviser skills training. The training, taught by the Army, covered convoy movements, crew served weapons familiarization and communications training. In addition to the combat skills training, each member was given language, culture and advisor training.

Upon completion of the training, Captain Gray deployed to the Security Assistance Office, Afghanistan, in Kabul in June and was assigned to serve as an advisor to the Afghan National Army Acquisition Agency. The agency is tasked with procurement of essential supplies and services for the entire Afghan National Army. Captain Gray had to quickly adapt and learn the Afghan procurement laws and processes.

"I thoroughly enjoyed working with the Afghans in the Afghan National Army," he said. "One of the things I worked with them on was establishing internet solicitations for bid proposals, which received very positive feedback from the Army and Afghan vendors alike."

At the acquisition agency, he was assigned to mentor Brig. Gen. Mir Hamza, from the Cost and Pricing Directorate, and Col. Qaseemi Habibullah, from the Central Contracting Directorate.

For the Cost and Pricing Directorate, Captain Gray helped to streamline the payment process and introduced new cost estimating techniques. In the Central Contracting Directorate, he was able to partner with the non-governmental organization, Peace Dividend Trust, to help increase Afghan vendor participation and competition.

Previously, each vendor had to physically travel to the acquisition agency to both pick up and drop off bidding documents. The lack of automation had greatly reduced vendor participation and, as a result, competition. Captain Gray was able to help the Afghan National Army by leveraging the internet to automate the bid solicitation process.

"I was surprised at the capabilities of the Afghan soldiers I worked directly with," he said. "I was told to expect to work with illiterate soldiers that had little to no computer skills."

The new internet solicitation process was a huge success, according to Captain Gray. The first contract solicited over the internet resulted in many vendors that had never before bid on an Afghan Ministry of Defense contract. Competition was greatly increased due to the large number of vendors that responded. As a result, the acquisition agency began seeing more vendors and competition than ever before.

After setting the stage for successful processes, Captain Gray handed off duties to the next person to continue leading the transition in Afghanistan. He returned home just in time for Christmas and is now settling back in to life in the United States.

"I honestly didn't expect to return until the first part of January, but the flights lined up enabling me to make it home Christmas Eve," he said. "It was a great surprise."

Captain Gray is returning back to his position as cost chief for the Aerial Ground Surveillance System Division and he can now say he had a hand in not just supporting the Warfighter, but leading the transition in Afghanistan.

Sarah Olaciregui from the 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs office contributed to this article.