Army and Air Force contracting experts are strengthening joint operations by reviving joint exercises, beginning with the Joint Force Contracting Exercise 2021 at various locations, June 21-25.
The JFCE, the first Air Force/Army training exercise since 2017, gave contracting teams the chance to practice unity of effort, build relationships and better understand each other’s organizational structure and methodologies.
Working in contracting detachments, Soldiers and Airmen tackled various exercise scenarios pertaining to contingency contracting in support of large-scale combat operations in a multi-domain environment. Exercise locations included Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, to Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, and more than 15 installations in between.
“In today’s dynamic environment, we must understand the importance of our National Defense Strategy, who our adversaries are, what challenges and threats we face, and the urgency to ‘Accelerate Change or Lose’ just as the chief of staff of the Air Force encourages,” said Brig. Gen. Alice Trevino, Air Force Installation Contracting Center commander.
“Last week, Airmen and Soldiers were exposed to scenarios that demanded them to think differently – unlike what they experience in ‘normal’ day-to-day home station or in-garrison situations,” she said.
“Meeting the challenges we’ll face in the next conflict requires an understanding of how other services incorporate contracting into operational planning and execution,” said Lt. Col. Peter O’Neill, JFCE-21 deputy director and AFICC’s director for Operating Location-Air Mobility Command at Scott AFB, Illinois. “The more we train together, the better we’ll be prepared as we integrate in the joint environment.”
In today’s environment, interoperability among services is critical, he added.
Since many exercise participants had little experience dealing with other services, exercise scenarios had Airmen and Soldiers working side by side to expand their horizons with new material, improve their skills and better understand each other’s terminology and structure, O’Neill said.
For JFCE-21, Senior Airman David Akins travelled from Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, to nearby Fort Bragg for the exercise. In addition to serving as contract administrator, he was responsible for the Government Purchase Card program for the exercise, buying goods and services in a simulated contingency environment.
“I know fairly well how the Air Force runs contracting when they are the head agency,” he said. “However, with the Army starting to have a larger role in contingency environments, it becomes increasingly more likely that future deployments operate in a joint environment, as opposed to just one agency at a given location.
“The experiences we are getting with the Army, in in-garrison and exercise environments, can prove beneficial, especially if a natural disaster occurs – namely hurricanes in North Carolina,” Akins said.
“Joint exercises like this one are (a) great way to not only build upon the knowledge of peers, but also a great way to network with people and learn of experiences that we can later apply to our own contracts to procure things cheaper, faster and better than we used to,” he added.
Army Maj. Keia Hurt, the 901st Contracting Battalion support officer at Fort Hood, Texas, was the Contracting Detachment 1 commander and contracting officer during the exercise.
“I think it’s important for the Army to seamlessly integrate with the Air Force and our sister services to be a force multiplier using contracting in a contingency environment,” Hurt said. “So this exercise allows us to train with our sister services; something we don’t get to do all the time.”
“And, exercise participants will certainly cross paths in the future,” O’Neill added.
For example, he and Army Lt. Col. Marlon Elbelau, the 418th Contracting Support Brigade officer in charge of future operations and lead planner for JFCE-21, were deployed together in Baghdad in 2007.
“We were familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses so that enabled us to work well to plan this exercise … the relationships you foster now will pay dividends in future operations,” O’Neill added.
Despite the lack of formal training exercises in recent years, real-world opportunities for joint operations have provided collaboration opportunities between the Army and Air Force.
For example, during the 2018 and 2019 hurricane seasons, AFICC partnered with U.S. Army Mission and Installation Contracting Command, U.S. Army North and U.S. Northern Command on operational contracting support initiatives to include a recurring Joint Operational Contracting synchronization forum to discuss operational contracting support doctrine and command and control opportunities.
Relationships built during those events proved valuable when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“These relationships and touchpoints were vital as we went into the pandemic, sharing information, de-conflicting requirements and analyzing the operating environment,” Trevino said.
With these past joint communication efforts, the goal of the JFCE was to solidify “connective tissue” gained and leverage OCS lessons learned from the enterprise at locations where Army/Air Force partnerships are currently making us stronger, Trevino added.
“In AFICC, we see ourselves as mission-focused business leaders who understand alignment, nested under the National Defense Strategy, and encourage everyone on our team to be change agents who practice the art of ‘thinking outside of the box,’ cultivate curiosity, build relationships, have the courage to ask questions and try new things, as well as know how to prioritize ruthlessly when time is of the essence for the joint warfighter,” Trevino said. “Partnering and collaboration with our sister services, during exercises and real-world operations, promotes unity of effort, improves synergy and empowers our change agents to make it better tomorrow for the next generation of warfighters.”