Contingency contracting officers providing critical capability to the warfighter

  • Published
  • By Mark Wyatt
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
Since Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom began more than a decade ago, contingency contract officers assigned here have steadily manned a critical capability to the warfighting mission.

1st Lt. Chase Wilke, a contract officer assigned to the Battle Management Directorate's Aerospace Management Systems Branch, filled that important role while in Afghanistan last year. Wilke said that Air Force CCOs are essential to supporting contracts that are helping to build a self-sustaining Army in Afghanistan.

"It's not just supporting the U.S. forces, it's also supporting our Afghan and Iraqi partners as well," said Wilke, who served as a contracting advisor to the Special Operations Advisory Group that assisted the Afghan Army Special Operations Command with executing its contracts.

Air Force CCOs, including Wilke and others from Hanscom AFB, have provided 75 percent of the manning for the Joint Theater Support Contracting Command, formerly known as Joint Contracting Command. And even as the military end-strength in Afghanistan is down significantly today, Hanscom continues to deploy a number of CCOs to the area of responsibility.

These highly trained Air Force professionals support contracting requirements during military operations, stability operations, natural disasters, humanitarian missions and other calamitous events around the globe.

In 2010, while commanding the International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan, U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus authored a two-page memo titled "COIN [counterinsurgency] Contracting Guidance" that noted "...with proper oversight, contracting can spur economic development and support the government and NATO's campaign objectives in Iraq and Afghanistan."

"General Petraeus, in Iraq, identified the critical capability contracting officers provide, not just to get supplies to forces, but to assist the Iraqis who are new to this concept, in an attempt to try and get them more business, and in an effort to fast-track development," said Lt. Col. Kenneth P. Main, Battle Management Directorate Contract Operations director. "A few years later, he applied these same concepts in Afghanistan to engage the local Afghanis by building up the development base."

Examples of what contingency contracting officers may procure are transportation, security, running dining facilities and sanitation at overseas bases, as well as training and construction. Purchases are broken into three broad categories: services, commodities and construction.

However, as Main states, contingency contracting is not a new concept to the Air Force.

"The Air Force, a long time ago, made the decision to have blue-suit contingency contract officers," said Main, who has deployed six times as a CCO. "There are many examples before these most recent operations when contracting professionals would support a deployed wing overseas."

As OEF and OIF progressed, the deployment cycle for contracting officers increased to a one-to-one dwell time, meaning CCOs can expect to be deployed for six months after six months at home station, he said.

Capt. Dana Loveless, who has been in the Air Force for five years and was tasked with her first deployment last year, to Kandahar, Afghanistan, as a deputy commander, explains why.

"The Air Force is trusted for the training programs we have, for developing enlisted and officers in the contracting career field, as well as the breadth of experience we have prior to deploying," said Loveless, Battle Management Directorate Airborne Warning and Control System contract manager. 

Main explains that a contracting officer is a business advisor and contract specialist, not a requirements owner, a misconception to some commanders.

"Often a commander will say, 'You're my contracting officer; if I want something you need to get it,'" Main said. "But just like here at Hanscom in support of two of the largest Air Force program executive officers [Battle Management and C3I and Networks Directorates], we need our customers - the subject matter experts - to articulate what good or service is needed. We are contracting experts - not food service, security or maintenance experts."

Wilke experienced similar demands while deployed, noting that the most challenging part of his job was working with U.S. Special Forces, because there was always an urgency.

Despite the demands of the position, for the young company grade officer, the deployment was professionally fulfilling.

"A typical day was working 16-hour shifts alongside subject matter experts while they developed the requirements," he said. "I learned a great deal and grew exponentially as a contracting officer."

And as the United States continues to build stability in a volatile region, CCOs remain in high-demand.

"General Petraeus originally coined it, but 'money as a weapon system,'" said Loveless. "Not only using it as life support, but also for building the hearts and minds of locals through commerce."

Something Hanscom contracting officers will continue to capably provide to the warfighter.