EX EX EX: Contracting behind the scenes

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kristine Legate
  • 355th Wing Public Affairs

To qualify as contingency contracting officers, Airmen must first undergo hands-on training to test their knowledge on their day-to-day procedures during catastrophic events.

Typically, this annual exercise is laid out for contracting Airmen by higher headquarters, but for this year’s rendition guidance was left vague. It provided the opportunity for units across the U.S. Air Force to tailor training to their personnel’s needs.

“This year’s training is a simulated hurricane recovery effort based off Hurricane Michael that hit Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, a few years ago, “ said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Karl Knott, 355th Contracting Squadron lead exercise planner and evaluator. “We’ve replicated a TDY (temporary duty assignment) to Tyndall to aid in the revival of the base.”

Coordination and planning started May 2021 when Senior Master Sgt. Chad Stemick, 355th CONS senior enlisted leader, reached out to Luke AFB’s 56th CONS. Together and 200 planning hours later, they created a multiday and overnight exercise simulating a stateside disaster containing 76 training scenarios. The scenarios incorporated aspects ranging from operational contracting, multi-capable Airmen activities, Lead Wing concepts and crisis response for their Airmen.

The exercise took place at DM’s Sunglow City from April 27-29, where players stayed overnight to get a feel for what it’s like to be away from their respective bases. Between the 355th Wing and 56th CONS, 70 total Airmen underwent training. The affiliation between DM and Luke CONS's was the first of its kind for the Arizona contracting community.

Contracting specialists follow strict standards to ensure every detail is covered every step of the way. They help prepare, negotiate and award contracts to qualified vendors, as well as evaluate their performances to ensure that the money spent is put to its best possible use. They provide the sources to sustain, recover and rebuild.

“This is a fantastic partnership between our contracting squadrons, we don’t have to be in the same major command to understand the importance of readiness,” said Maj. Brandon Reeves, 355th CONS commander. “The Wing Commander prioritizes readiness and we play a part in base wide exercises by sending a person or two. However, during this exercise we get the opportunity to make sure we get experience for our newer Airmen all at once.”

Priorities are crisis response, security, medical evacuation, damage assessment and basic sustainment, and aren’t often associated with contracting. CONS Airmen need the skills to work quickly and efficiently to provide aid in these services.

“Wherever there’s a need for people, there’s a need for supplies and services,” said Reeves. “So, for our guys; it’s not if, but when they’re going out the door, we have to make sure they are ready.”

Participants of the exercise encountered scenarios involving others posing as various customers, contractors, and higher headquarters’ requests for information, testing their time management, attention to detail and contracting knowledge, while also aiding in their development as mission-focused business leaders.

“Opportunities like this are extremely beneficial to our newer Airmen,” said Knott. “We have five person teams out here, and of the teams, at least three members have less than a year of experience, either in the Air Force or as part of contracting because they’re cross trainees. This is their first experience in dealing with manual contract forms, some of our contingency thresholds, and also being thrown into leadership roles.”

Throughout the exercise, a small team of experienced personnel monitored the participants to provide feedback and guidance throughout the variety of scenarios and procedures they were exposed to.

“In this particular exercise, they’re learning how to contract for items in the U.S. in response to certain crisis and emergencies,” said Lt. Col. Elizabeth Romero, 56th CONS commander. “Here, they’re learning how to contract for different things and are exposed to diverse scenarios and operational tempos. They’re really building and expanding those critical contracting officer skills that are needed to support the U.S. Air Force.”

Being placed outside of their typical day-to-day duties, some participants were provided with the opportunity to broaden their horizons as far as leadership, organization and maintaining control over a team of people, all on top of their own workload.

“There’s been a lot of curves and thinking on your feet,” said Staff Sgt. Marshall Chaplinski, 355th CONS senior contract specialist. “There were a lot of aspects in play that we weren’t initially expecting. It’s definitely helping me get experience. Especially as a team lead, getting me to learn every member’s strength and weakness to create a team dynamic.”

The scenarios given throughout the exercise were designed to make the Airmen think outside the box and not allow complacency to occur. The realism created a sense of urgency and encouraged participants to attack problems head-on. It provided contracting Airmen the background and basics when it comes to contracting while also exposing them to high-speed tempos, this gave them the exposure of what to expect under crisis response, training into readiness.