Contracting Airmen, Soldiers ready for joint contracting exercise

  • Published
  • By Daniel P. Elkins
  • U.S. Army MICC Public Affairs

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- Contracting Soldiers from across the U.S. Army’s Mission and Installation Contracting Command are joining their Air Force counterparts June 21-25 for the virtual 2021 Joint Forces Contracting Exercise.

With the 2021 Joint Forces Contracting Exercise, or JFCE-21, contracting teams will execute the force employment concept of deploying a joint regional contracting office to provide operational contract support to a combat-credible force in the deterrence of aggression against U.S. interests in key areas.

The exercise goal is to build a trained and ready joint force capable of delivering contracting support and contingency contracting effects during large-scale combat operations.

“We’re practicing our joint interoperability with the Air Force and eventually with all of our sister services because it’s important that we be able to work with each other,” said Army Col. Joel Greer, director of JFCE-21 and the 418th Contracting Support Brigade commander at Fort Hood, Texas.

“Interoperability among the services is critical as the Department of Defense pivots from counter insurgency to large-scale combat operations,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Peter O’Neill, deputy exercise director and the Air Force Installation Contracting Center’s director for Operating Location-Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.

"Meeting the challenges we’ll face in the next conflict will require an understanding of how the other service incorporates contracting into operational planning and execution. The more we train together, the better we will be prepared as we integrate in the joint environment,” he said.

Part of the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, AFICC is responsible for managing and executing acquisition solutions across the Air Force enterprise.

Lt. Col. Justin DeArmond, the MICC deputy chief of staff for operations at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, said the commanding general for Army Contracting Command directed his command and the MICC in late 2020 to resurrect its joint training efforts with the Air Force by leveraging virtual platforms. 

Leaders from the MICC’s 418th CSB are serving as the exercise control group responsible for coordinating, resourcing and planning all facets of the exercise as well as providing oversight to ensure its success.

A deliberate planning effort is the foundation on which any successful exercise is built, said, Lt. Col. Marlon Elbelau, the 418th CSB officer in charge of future operations and lead planner for JFCE-21. 

“Despite the fact that all integrated project teams and planning events were virtual, what made the JFCE-21 planning effort successful was the dedication and commitment from the whole team,” Elbelau said. “Remaining focused allowed the team to overcome challenges with not being co-located for planning events and ensuring that all are in synch.”

The exercise scenario includes Army and Air Force contracting forces U.S. European Command’s area of responsibility as part of a larger deployment operation to conduct theater support contracting and contingency contracting administrative services. MICC officials said JFCE-21 also revalidates the capability of joint contracting enablers as a force multiplier to increase warfighter readiness, interoperability, flexibility and freedom of movement by leveraging commercial capabilities through contract support and contingency contracting administration services.

JFCE-21 serves as a continuation of lessons learned from past Operational Contract Support Joint Exercise, or OCSJX, training events and builds upon the previous individual and collective understanding of operational contract support capabilities. The last OCSJX, in March 2018, included all DOD services as well as the British Army. The OCSJX exercise series was then cancelled because of budget constraints.
Elbelau said there are a handful of personnel on the JFCE-21 planning team who met previously during the final two OCSJX training events.

“The experiences and perspectives they brought to the planning sessions allowed us to get ahead of some of the issues we had to overcome,” Elbelau said. “Joint exercises have unique challenges such as different organizational processes, network and IT access, constant joint manning document changes, and integration of service component and other agency procurement processes and their impact on the master scenario events list design.”

Unlike previous training exercises, JFCE-21 is taking place in a virtual environment, presenting both benefits and obstacles.

“The major advantage of a virtual exercise is the ability for us to have multiple training locations while limiting travel challenges related to COVID-19, temporary duty costs, venue support, and the need for a larger support staff to properly receive participants and set them up for the exercise,” Elbelau said of leveraging collaboration platforms such as video conferencing to share presentations and broadcast training and mentoring sessions. “Executing JFCE-21 in a virtual environment limits demands on logistics, admin, IT and travel costs with the training predominantly using issued equipment and home station-owned facilities to participate in the exercise.”

He noted the disadvantages include the loss of opportunity for real-time collaboration across the whole formation, limited networking and relationship building, and the potential for network issues impacting communication and interaction between training locations.

Maj. Edgar Yu, team leader for the exercise at Fort Bragg, said the skills and understanding gained through the joint contracting exercise will benefit his team with upcoming deployments.

“I truly hope my team is able to build cohesion, get trained and be ready to provide contracting support to Joint Task Force Bravo in Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, and any current contingency environment,” Yu said.

Elbelau agrees with the future benefit of the training and added that the exercise also affords the ability to test new concepts, tools and doctrine such as Army Techniques Publication 4-71, Contracting Support Brigade, and the Air Force’s business intelligence market research app.

The JFCE-21 deputy director also outlined a few overall objectives he anticipates Airmen to take away from this exercise.

“We want to introduce our Airmen to the joint environment. Many have little experience dealing with other services. Understanding the Army’s terminology and structure now will enable them to hit the ground running when they deploy,” O’Neill said. “Next, our Airmen have been conducting contingency contracting officer training at home station using Air Force scenarios. Introducing them to new material will expand their horizons and improve their skills.”

“Lastly, for the joint contracting detachments, our contingency contracting officers will get the opportunity to work side by side with their Army counterparts. They will certainly cross paths in the future,” O’Neill said

The JFCE-21 training audience includes Soldiers and Airmen at Fort Hood and JBSA-Fort Sam Houston in Texas; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Wright-Patterson; Shaw AFB and Joint Base Charleston in South Carolina; and Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina. The exercise control group, located at Fort Hood, includes members from Illinois, Kansas, Washington, Maryland, Idaho, Colorado, Georgia, Oklahoma and Florida.

That team also includes representatives from the Defense Contract Management Agency, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for procurement office, Air Force, ACC and its subordinate brigades, and the MICC headquarters and its subordinate contracting brigades. The team’s goal is to incorporate a realistic, challenging operational environment that enables the assessment of learning objectives so that Army contracting detachments and Air Force subject matter experts can demonstrate their ability to deploy and operate.